Navajo Nation President reinforces San Juan River restrictions

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Water-use restrictions remain in place for the portion of the San Juan River that flows through the Navajo Nation.

Tribal officials are warning against using river water for crop irrigation, watering livestock and recreational purposes after more than 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater was accidently released Aug. 5 from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo. The waste flowed into Cement Creek then into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye reinforced the restrictions in the press release from his office on Monday.

"I am furious that the U.S. EPA has placed the Navajo Nation into this position." Begaye said. "Our farms will not last much longer without water and our resources are depleting. These past few days I have visited with the farmers along the San Juan River because they are part of this decision."

The press release also states the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency will receive final results from soil sampling this week.

"These soil samples are critical in identifying levels of metals that have settled along the river banks," the release states.

In a public meeting on Aug. 20 in Shiprock, Begaye said he wanted to hear from the chapter governments about whether or not to lift the restrictions.

Members of Shiprock Chapter voted in favor of a resolution 104-0 with 11 members abstaining on Friday to keep the river closed to irrigation activities.

Upper Fruitland Chapter Manager Alvis Kee said a meeting was scheduled Monday evening for chapter officials from Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland to discuss the river restrictions.

Also on Monday, U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called for an oversight hearing about the mine spill, according to a joint press release from their offices.

In the letter, Luján and DeGette request that the Energy and Commerce Committee hold a hearing to examine the EPA's Office of Inspector General's review of the spill and the EPA's response.

The lawmakers are calling for the examination to ensure the spill is cleaned up and the responsible parties are held accountable.

"Since there are thousands of abandoned mines, we must work together to prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The letter was submitted to the chairmen of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.