Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Wed, Aug. 12

Begaye requests help from FEMA
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality says Lake Powell water safe for normal use

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has officially requested the appointment of a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist the Navajo Nation as it recovers from the Gold King Mine spill.

Begaye said a FEMA disaster coordinator would benefit the Nation because they could assist the Nation in effectively assessing the short and long term impacts of the disaster, determine priorities and activate a recovery support strategy.

"As the primary, secondary, and tertiary impacts of the toxic chemical spill are already affecting crucial areas of the Nation's land, waters, crop production, livestock raising, and economic resources, the authority of an FDRC to coordinate assistance from other federal agencies would enable a focus of federal resources and seamless coordination to effectively respond to this disaster," wrote Begaye in a letter to FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been appointed as the lead federal agency responding to the disaster, Begaye said that FEMA is best positioned and structured to coordinate all available assistance, to plan long term, to assess the impacted communities and to develop a recovery support strategy.

Begaye updates Sen. Tom Udall

Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez met with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) Sept. 3 and spoke about the aftermath of the Gold King Mine breach that occurred Aug. 5.

Attorney General Ethel Branch, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Delegates Tom Chee and Amber Crotty, and chapter officials Duane Yazzie and Gilbert Harrison were also in attendance.

Begaye said the immediate concern was the demobilization of water tanks owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Navajo Region. The tanks are in use at affected chapters to provide water for livestock and irrigation. BIA crews and equipment were scheduled to leave the area by Sept. 5.

"We still need the BIA support and their water tanks," Begaye said. "We are very concerned about the loss of the water tanks, as our canals are still closed. Hence, we have requested FEMA to intervene and help us in our time of crisis."

Upstream, the San Juan River has been reopened for irrigation at Nenanezad, San Juan, Gadii'ahi and Upper Fruitland.

Downstream, the river remains closed for both the Hogback and Shiprock chapters. Gaadii'ahi voted to reopen the river for irrigation and are currently using electric pumps to draw water into the canal.

Udall said he has placed his field representative, Cal Curley, on the ground working since the mine spill occurred.

"We've done a number of things: scheduling the hearings and getting Administrator McCarthy out here immediately," he said. "She was out here within a week. The spiritual and emotional toll is very important. The agencies, instead of being bureaucratic, need to be understanding."

Nez said there is still no word from White House officials since the spill occurred last month.

"President Obama and FEMA need to be more proactive and declare this as a disaster area," Nez said. "The Navajo Nation should have the affected tribal lands designated as its own EPA region. There would be less confusion this way."

Begaye will testify and attend several Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Navajo farmers and ranchers impacted by the spill.

Lake Powell water safe for normal use

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) officials announced Sept. 3 that its analysis of water entering Lake Powell shows that the lake is safe for normal uses.

"ADEQ wants Arizona residents and visitors to know that Lake Powell is safe for Labor Day recreational activities including swimming and boating," said ADEQ Water Quality Division director Trevor Baggiore. "ADEQ and the multiple cooperating agencies are reviewing and analyzing new information as it becomes available as part of our everyday work to protect Arizona's waters."

Scientists and specialists from several Arizona agencies have been monitoring and assessing data related to the mine spill. Arizona's cooperating agencies agree that Lake Powell and the downstream Colorado River are safe for all uses including recreation and agriculture as well as a drinking water source for public water systems.

To establish baseline water quality, ADEQ conducted water quality sampling on Aug. 12. Test results of these samples are consistent with historic water quality data from Lees Ferry (downstream of Glen Canyon Dam). These results, along with ADEQ's data analysis of water entering Lake Powell (San Juan River test data collected by Utah) are available for review on the Arizona cooperating agencies' Gold King Mine spill information website: https://ein.az.gov/gold-king-mine-spill-response, located on the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AZEIN) website.

As part of the ongoing water quality monitoring and assessment work, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is collecting and testing fish tissue and water quality samples from the Arizona portion of Lake Powell. As new test results become available, ADEQ will compare them with Arizona surface water quality standards and historical data to support water quality protection efforts and continue to share updated information on the AZEIN website.

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