Contaminated Water on Its Way to the Navajo Nation

Contaminated water heading to the Navajo Nation

Contaminated water heading to the Navajo Nation

Published August 7, 2015

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA — One million gallons of mine wastewater that breached a wall at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado is making its way to the Navajo Nation.

The spill of heavy metals – lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum and copper – will likely impact downstream users, including over 10 Navajo chapters and hundreds of farmers that rely on the San Juan River.

As of 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, the yellow, murky plume had moved into New Mexico from the Animas River, whose headwaters begin in Colorado.

The waste in the Animas River was trigged after officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used heavy machinery to check for pollutants at the abandoned Gold King Mine. The EPA has taken the blame for the spill, which was caused from EPA officials removing backfill from the mine to access it and accidently released the waste. According to the EPA, the pollutants are not harmful to humans.

The estimated one million gallons of waste was released into Cement Creek on Wednesday, a tributary of the Animas River. The Animas River flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico and then joins the Colorado River in Utah.

According to Shiprock Chapter President Duane Chili Yazzie, the spill is expected to arrive in Shiprock by this evening or so, having passed through several Navajo communities including Upper Fruitland, Nenanazad and Tse Dikaan.

Other Navajo communities that will likely be impacted are Gadiihi, just west of Shiprock, as well as Aneth and Montezuma Creek, before going into Lake Powell.

“We shut off our irrigation system, so none of that contaminated water will go into our farm areas,” Yazzie told the Times via telephone Friday.

In Shiprock, there are about 500 farmers that would be directly impacted, Yazzie said, adding the biggest concern is not knowing when to open up the system to allow water to flow and what kind of contamination will persist.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


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