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Navajo Nation farmers losing crops amid mine spill concerns

The San Juan River remains under a health and safety advisory on the Navajo Nation. Photo from Facebook

The Navajo Nation has refused to reopen the San Juan River amid lingering concerns about contamination from the Gold King Mine waste spill.

The states of Colorado and New Mexico have declared the river to be safe. The Environmental Protection Agency also said contaminants have returned to levels seen before the August 5 incident released about 3 million gallons of waste into the water system.

But Navajo President Russell Begaye is waiting on test results from the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency before making a decision. Tribal citizens have been warned not to use the San Juan for agriculture or livestock.

"I will lift the advisory only upon completion of the analysis by NNEPA and assured that the water is safe," Begaye said.

Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, left, helps farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico. Photo from Facebook

Without reliable water, farmers on the reservation are slowly losing their crops. The EPA has delivered water and people are finding their own sources but it's not enough to keep corn, squash and other foods viable in the long run.

"It doesn't make it all the way down the crops," Bertha Etsitty, whose vegetables are dying, said at a meeting of concerned farmers at the Shiprock Chapter House, The Farmington Daily-Times reported.

"I'm going to lose about 6.5 acres of crops," Robert Lapahie told The Denver Post.

Meanwhile, the EPA's inspector general has launched an investigation into the spill. Administrator Gina McCarthy has said a contractor working at the mine accidentally caused the release of the contaminants into theAnimas River, which feeds into the San Juan.

From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examine conditions on the San Juan River last week. Photo from Facebook

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colorado) praised McCarthy for apologizing and for visiting Colorado after the spill. But he said Republican leaders in the House plan to launch their own investigation.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is also holding EPA accountable. He said the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Tribe, whose leaders were among the first to notice the spill, deserve answers about the quality of water on their lands.

"The EPA must not forget that, besides the individual tribal members, sovereign Indian tribes to whom the United States has a trust responsibility also rely on the water from these two important rivers," Barrasso said in a letter to McCarthy, referring to the San Juan and the Animas.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is touring the Animas today and will hold a public meeting to discuss the spill, The Durango Herald reported.

Get the Story:
Navajo Nation farmers express concerns about quality of delivered water (The Farmington Daily Times 8/18)
A contaminated river threatens Navajo Nation's spiritual culture (The Denver Post 8/18)
Navajo farmers and officials feel the EPA should be doing more to help them (The Denver Post 8/18)
In spill’s wake, Tipton, GOP plan probe of EPA (The Durango Herald 8/18)
Presidential candidate to tour Animas River on Tuesday (The Durango Herald 8/18)
EPA watchdog investigating toxic mine spill in Colorado (AP 8/17)

An Opinion:
Allen Best: River disaster a long time in the making (The Albuquerque Journal 8/14)

Related Stories:
Leader of EPA visits Navajo Nation after mine spill in Colorado (8/13)
President of Navajo Nation upset with EPA's response to spill (8/12)
Navajo Leader: 'This is an assault on who we are as Dine people' (8/11)
Navajo Nation to sue EPA over release of mine waste into waters (8/10)

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