Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye shared his outrage about the Gold King Mine blowout with Durangoans, and a day later, the tribe’s officials declared a state of emergency on Navajo lands.
“The river is life for all of us,” he told Durangoans on Sunday night.
He added that he intended to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for accidentally releasing 3 million gallons of wastewater that drained into the Animas River from the abandoned mine near Silverton on Wednesday. The tainted water eventually flowed into the San Juan River and across the Navajo Nation.
“It is devastating to us,” he said.
But the blowout could have been prevented with the right mitigation, Begaye said.
“The warnings were there, but no one did anything,” he said.
All across the Navajo Nation, residents have had to pen up their cattle and sheep to keep them out of the polluted flow, Begaye said.
The tainted mine water released into the Animas contained lead, iron, aluminum and zinc, among 20 other metals for which the EPA is testing, said Deb McKean, a toxicologist with the department, on Sunday.
Navajo tribal members have concerns about how pollution will affect their crops and how storm events could stir up pollution in the future.
The Navajo Nation’s emergency declaration, issued Monday, said the tainted mine water will have long-lasting and unknown effects on the tribe’s water systems and wells.
As the plume of tainted mine runoff neared Bluff, Utah, Rex Kontz deputy general manager for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority said the water system was prepared to shut down two wells. Fresh water was hauled 40 miles from Arizona to fill a residential tank in Halchita, Utah, to keep water flowing to homes dependant on the water system.
The Navajo Nation’s water-intake systems were shut down before the pollution arrived, but Begaye joined a chorus of frustrated Durangoans who have expressed frustration the EPA could not say more immediately what metals and at what concentrations were in the water.
“Just be up front with us. That’s all we want,” he told the EPA officials, who were at the public meeting Sunday night in Durango.
Begaye visited the mine over the weekend, and he couldn’t believe runoff from the Gold King still looked like orange juice.
“We were told it’s clearing up,” he said.
Begaye said he planned to hire experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to give the Navajo Nation straight answers about the water’s contents.
“The uncertainty is mind-boggling,” he said
firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.