#AnimasRiver: Navajo farmers reject use of water — The Durango Herald

San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day via Western Americana
San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day via Western Americana

From the Associated Press (Felica Fonsceca) via The Durango Herald:

One of the largest communities of Navajo farmers along the San Juan River has voted to keep irrigation canals closed for at least a year following a spill of toxic sludge at the Gold King Mine above Silverton.

The unanimous vote by more than 100 farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico, was heart-wrenching and guarantees the loss of many crops, Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said Monday.

But he said farmers don’t want to risk contaminating the soil for future generations.

“Our position is better safe than sorry,” Yazzie said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation EPA have said the water is safe for irrigation, based on surface water testing. Other communities off the reservation have cleared the water for drinking, recreation and irrigation.

The Navajo Nation has been hesitant to lift restrictions on using the river water, mostly over concerns about contaminants being stirred up and washed down the river.

Tribal President Russell Begaye has asked several farming and ranching communities impacted by the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King Mine, to weigh in by passing resolutions with an official position.

Shiprock is the only community that has submitted a resolution so far, tribal spokesman Mihio Manus said.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Officials in Silverton and San Juan County announced Tuesday they will work with communities downstream to petition Congress for federal disaster funds to clean up mine waste in the Upper Animas Mining District.

In a joint resolution passed Monday night by the town’s board and Tuesday morning by the county commission, officials said they hope the petition will bring adequate funding to the area to clean up the long-term impacts of historic mining.

“The people of the town of Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution to the issue of leaking mines,” the resolution said…

The resolution says disaster funding could pay for building and operating a water treatment facility in upper Cement Creek and further remediation of the contaminated mines in the Upper Animas River Basin.

Officials say the federal money could also help support the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo Nation which were hit hard by the Gold King spill.

Mark Eddy, a spokesman for the town and San Juan County, said Tuesday while this petition for federal funds is not linked to Superfund, it does not remove that option from the table.

“It’s not saying ‘Let’s do this instead of something else,’ ” Eddy said. “It’s ‘Let’s do this while we look at all the other options.’ ”

“Superfund goes through its own longer-term process. Federal disaster funds can be released a lot quicker,” he added.

The town’s board and county commissioners say they hope a formal request for disaster funds can be made to Congress within several weeks.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Less than three weeks after 3 million gallons of contaminated mine runoff surged down the Animas River, Environmental Protection Agency officials said metal concentrations in surface water are trending toward pre-event conditions.

The EPA said it validated river samples from the Animas River and San Juan River in New Mexico collected on Aug. 11 and Aug. 14. Officials believe the samples indicate the rivers are returning to levels before the Aug. 5 spill…

But some say there is far more concern and uncertainty when it comes to the mineral-rich orange sediment that settled on the banks and Animas riverbed.

The sediment, which contains elevated levels of lead and arsenic, poses a potential health risk in both the short- and long-term…

As of Monday afternoon, EPA spokeswoman Jennah Durant said the mine is releasing water at a rate of approximately 559 gallons per minute. Durant said that water is captured and treated before being discharged into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas.

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