Poisoned Waters: Navajo Communities Still Struggle After Mining Disaster – by Suzette Brewer (Indian Country Today – September 14, 2016)


SHIPROCK, New Mexico—On Friday, as the Obama administration temporarily halted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline due to concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, another water-related human tragedy continued to unfold within the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

A year after the Gold King Mine spill that turned the San Juan River bright orange with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals, Navajo families continue to struggle against the ongoing, catastrophic effects on their water supply that threaten both their health and the economic stability of an already fragile community. On a daily basis, tribal members along the San Juan River say, they are still confronting the environmental, agricultural, health and spiritual fallout from the disaster that has pushed some to the brink of despair and left many others teetering on poverty.

In August 2015, more than three million gallons of toxic acid sludge and heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, arsenic and dozens of other dangerous contaminants, was released into the Animus River at its headwaters in Silverton, Colorado, the largest tributary to the San Juan River.

Home to Shiprock, the most populous community in the Navajo Nation, the San Juan supplies water to nearly 1,500 farms and 1,200 ranches that have been devastated in the wake of what the Navajo Nation contends was “a preventable tragedy.”

The disaster, which resulted from abandoned and poorly maintained mines, has left many tribal members depressed and fearful, saying they don’t trust that the waterways are safe for them, their crops or their livestock. This leaves hundreds of farmers and ranchers without the means to earn a living in one of the poorest regions in the United States.

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