Begaye calls on EPA to bring water
Saying “Cattle can’t wait for test results,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye Sunday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to bring drinking water for people and livestock to the Navajo Nation to replace San Juan River water contaminated by a three-million-gallon spill of toxic mine waste in Silverton the agency inadvertently caused when digging at an abandoned mine Wednesday.
After attending a public meeting in Durango that included state and local government officials as well as EPA representatives, Begaye also reiterated his plans to sue the EPA and revealed the Navajo Nation has been taking its own water and sediment samples, which will be sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for analysis.
“We’re not going to depend on EPA,” he said. “We’re going to get our own answers.”
Begaye said three water tanks that draw from the San Juan in Farmington, Aneth and Mexican Hat, Utah have been shut off as well as irrigation ditches in the Shiprock area, and Navajos are hauling water for themselves and their livestock.
“Farmers are upset,” he said.
EPA officials at the meeting showed graphs of test results showing the major contaminants — iron, manganese, zinc and cadmium — had returned to baseline levels in the Animas River in the northern part of Durango by Sunday, after most of the toxic plume had passed, and acidity levels were back to normal.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported only one of the 108 “sentinel fish” planted in cages in the river had died, and Scott Roberts, an aquatic ecologist with the independent Mountain Studies Institute said that soil samples from the river bottom, where the heavy metals are likely to settle as the plume flows downstream, contained live aquatic insects 20 hours after the plume had passed, which is a good sign.
EPA officials said four settling ponds have been constructed at the Gold King and the waste is being treated before it enters the river. The volume of the discharge has also decreased from 700 to 500 gallons per minute.
The bad news is the initial spill was about three times larger than the early estimate of one million gallons.
Initial test results are available at epaosc.org/goldkingmine. The site will be continually updated as more information comes in, the EPA said.