WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez are denouncing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing failure to compensate farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods were devastated by the 2015 spill at Gold King Mine.
Aug. 5 marked the three-year anniversary of the spill, which dumped 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers. A mustard-yellow plume of toxins swept downriver, poisoning water sources for thousands of people who rely on the river for farming or livestock.
The EPA admitted fault in the spill, which occurred at an abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado. Despite the EPA’s repeated promises that victims on the Navajo Nation and surrounding states will be fairly compensated, the federal agency has yet to follow through.
“This is unacceptable,” Begaye said. “Our farmers and ranchers have been waiting for disaster compensation for three years. I’ve spoken numerous times before the Senate and the White House. We demand that farmers be fairly compensated.”
Just days after the spill occurred, Begaye visited the mine site and witnessed the toxins spilling into the water. He talked with residents along the river in chapters from Upper Fruitland, New Mexico to Page, Arizona who watched their crops dry up.
“I stood alongside farmers in their fields,” he said. “I watched them weep for their crops that were slowly dying because they couldn’t get water for them.”
Initially, the EPA promised to provide tanks of fresh water for residents. But those tanks, borrowed from local oil field companies, were contaminated, Begaye said.
“The EPA’s actions throughout the disaster and even to the present have been shameful,” he said. “The way we were treated was hurtful and it’s still happening. Each day that goes by without compensation is salt in open wounds.”
The Navajo Nation also is demanding the EPA initiate more thorough cleanup measures. Three years after the spill, farmers along the San Juan River are still hesitant to use the water for irrigation.
“Every time a storm comes through, the sediment is washed up from the banks and riverbeds,” Begaye said. “The river water is contaminated all over again.”
Because Navajo farmers have not seen a concerted effort to clean the river, compensation claims are accumulating with every growing season, Nez said.
He said the EPA’s failure to mitigate its own disaster is hurting individuals and the Navajo economy.
“Three years later, the people who were affected the most by this manmade disaster are still picking up the pieces,” Nez said. “Farmers who use the water can’t sell their produce. The EPA has failed the Navajo people and we demand that victims be made whole.”
The Navajo Nation, along with New Mexico and Utah, is suing the EPA in federal court over the spill.
Information provided by the Office of the President and Vice President