NMED wants to hear about Gold King Mine spill effect on Navajo Nation farms

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Environment Department wants to hear from Navajo farmers about how their agricultural products have been affected since the Gold King Mine spill.

The department is holding a listening session as part of the continuing effort to eliminate the unfounded stigma against crops irrigated with water from the Animas or San Juan rivers. The latter provides water for irrigation canals on the Navajo Nation.

The Aug. 5, 2015 spill released millions of gallons of heavy metal-laden wastewater into a tributary for the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River. The tainted water then traveled through 215 miles of the northern portion of the reservation.

In response to questions about the listening session, the department replied that three years of data from testing crops show levels of heavy metals as low to not detectable. River water has consistently met state standards for irrigation safety since 2016.

Byron Nelson, of Mitten Rock, looks over his crops on Aug. 18, 2015 in Shiprock.

"There is a perception among some consumers, however, that crops grown in this region are contaminated from the 2015 Gold King Mine spill," the department stated.

The department works with the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and New Mexico State University on a public outreach and education campaign to inform people that it is safe to farm.

Still, hearing from farmers is a critical part of the task to eliminate the stigma that continues to cause economic damage, the department stated.

Joe Ben Jr., farm board representative for Shiprock Chapter, looks at corn on a farm on Aug. 18, 2015 in Shiprock.

The listening session will be from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 5 at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Among personnel scheduled to speak is Dennis McQuillan, chief scientist for the environment department.

McQuillan was asked to open the session with a summary about the crop and water testing done to date, according to the department.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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Earl Yazzie talks on Dec. 23, 2015 about the effects of the Gold King Mine spill on his farm in Shiprock.