Group to present update on mine spill study

Noel Lyn Smith
Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy, watches water flow past an irrigation gate along the Fruitland Irrigation canal in Upper Fruitland, N.M. in this August 2015 file photo.

FARMINGTON — A group of researchers who have been studying the effects of the Gold King Mine spill for almost two years will return to Shiprock Wednesday to provide an update.

Millions of gallons of toxic wastewater were released from a closed mine north of Silverton, Colo. on Aug. 5, 2015. The plume flowed into the Animas River then into the San Juan River, which runs through the northern portion of the Navajo Nation.

The project is a collaboration between Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program. It started in the fall of 2015.

Orange sludge flows down the Animas River,  near U.S. 550 south of Durango, Colo. in August 2015.

Nathan Lothrop, project manager for the study, said the teach-in will share information about the types of testing completed and share some available results

Lothrop said the study needs approval by the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board before complete results can be published.

The board is comprised of 15 members who review proposals for human research studies conducted within the Navajo Nation, according to tribal law.

As part of the study, samples were collected from the San Juan River, irrigation canals and private water wells on the reservation then tested for arsenic, lead and manganese, Lothrop said.

The first samples were collected in November and December 2015, followed by samples taken in March 2016 and in May and June 2016.

Most samples were taken in Upper Fruitland and Shiprock. Some were collected in Aneth and Mexican Hat, both in Utah.

During the second half of the event, community members will break into groups to talk about ongoing concerns they have about the mine spill, Lothrop said.

Water inches its way forward as the Fruitland Irrigation canal is flushed in Upper Fruitland, N.M. in August 2015.

He added the team had a similar teach-in last March where residents compiled three concerns about the mine spill aftermath – the mistrust of outside entities conducting research, concern research findings would not be presented to the community and anxiety about whether water is safe for irrigation, livestock and washing.

"We want to know what the community concerns are moving forward," Lothrop said.

Researchers are also interested in receiving feedback from residents about whether monitoring should continue, he said.

Presentations will be made by Karletta Chief, principal investigator for the study, geologist Arnold Clifford, the Gold King Mine Spill Citizens' Advisory Committee, Kevin Lombard and Brandon Francis from New Mexico State University and Steve Austin from Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

If you go

What: Tó Bei Nihi Dziil – A People's Teach-in: Update on Gold King Mine spill sampling efforts

When: 8:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday

Where: Shiprock Chapter house in Shiprock

More info: Janene Yazzie, 917-636-2392