WATER ONLINE: EPA Wastewater Spill Creates Challenges For Navajo Nation

Posted on Aug 28, 2015

The EPA’s accidental mining wastewater spill has thrust the federal government into a tense relationship with the Navajo Nation.

“Navajo officials have chastised the EPA since the spill and tribal leaders say the aftermath of the release left their people on the brink of economic disaster since use of the San Juan for agricultural purposes was banned,” The Denver Post reported.

The EPA announced in August that the water is safe again, but the Navajo Nation did not immediately begin to draw from the source. Navajo Nation leaders decided to wait for tests from its own environmental overseers.

“I’m glad the [EPA] water samples indicate the water is safe for irrigation use, but I remain concerned over the soil and sediment that lines our [river’s] bank,” said tribe President Russell Begaye, per the Post. “Every time a heavy storm hits or the soil is disturbed it can recontaminate the water.”

Eleven days after the spill, Begaye scooped water out of the river and it was still discolored.

“One thing I can tell you is I’m not gonna be drinking this water. Even if I put in a purifying pill, I ain’t drinking it,” Begaye said in a video posted on his Facebook page, per The Washington Times.

For its part, the EPA is offering assurances that the water is safe. “The Environmental Protection Agency announced water quality in the San Juan River has returned to levels recorded before 3 million gallons of mine waste was spilled upstream in Colorado earlier this month,” The Denver Post reported.

The U.S. claimed responsibility this month for sending a flood of toxic waste into the Colorado Animas River.

“Since August 5, the Animas has been grievously polluted with toxic water spilled from one of the many abandoned mines that pockmark the region — a spill for which the EPA has claimed responsibility, saying it accidentally breached a store of chemical-laced water,” The New York Times reported.