Navajo Nation Opts to Keep San Juan Closed

Due to contamination concerns following Gold King mine spill

Aug 26, 2015
Outside Magazine
Navajo Nation Opts to Keep San Juan Closed

Many farmers in the Navajo Nation, who use the river for livestock and irrigation, remain concerned about the water quality in the river.    Sue Nichols / Flickr

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye will uphold restrictions on using water from New Mexico's San Juan River for farming purposes for at least one year, according to a Monday news release. The Environmental Protection Agency declared that pollutant levels in the river had returned to normal on August 15, ten days after 3 million gallons of hazardous waste leaked from the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado, into the Animas and San Juan rivers. But many farmers in the Navajo Nation, who use the river for livestock and irrigation, remain concerned about the water quality in the San Juan River.

“Please understand this is very stressful for them, and this is their livelihood,” Megan Cox, a spokesperson from the Navajo Nation president’s office, told the Guardian. “They are growing organic crops and do not want to harm the land, their crops or any individuals by exposure to these chemicals.”

At a meeting on Saturday, Begaye discussed reopening canals accessed by the farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico. The farmers voted 104-0, with nine abstaining, in favor of maintaining existing closures for another year.

“No testing has been done on the Navajo reservation,” Joe Ben Jr., Shiprock’s farm board representative, told the Guardian. “And the tests were not disclosed; which metals were present? If we knew, we could make a decision.”

 Navajo Nation farmers intend to gather water from water hauling companies contracted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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