Gold King Mine spill hits Navajo Nation hard – by Heath Haussamen

While the Colorado governor drank water from the Animas River on Wednesday to demonstrate that conditions are improving, downstream, people on the Navajo Nation continue to deal with the very real effects of an environmental disaster.

A scene from the Animas River in La Plata County, Colo., after last week's spill.

A scene from the Animas River in La Plata County, Colo., shortly after last week’s spill. Pictrure from site in link below.

With river water still not cleared for use on the Navajo Nation after the EPA accidentally triggered the spill of three million gallons of toxic waste last week, crops are drying up. From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

On the Navajo Nation, some 30,000 acres of crops are in danger without irrigation. Farmers also worry about contaminating their irrigation ditches once the gates are reopened, and ranchers are looking for assurances that livestock won’t be exposed to contaminants each time they wade into the river and kick up sediment while getting a drink.

Navajo farmers are in the middle of alfalfa season and without rain, tribal officials say they will be in trouble. They have been flooding the airwaves and social media with Navajo-language public service announcements to keep people updated.

About 43 percent of people on the Navajo Nation live below the poverty line. Some are dependent on the crops that are now at risk.

The Navajo Times told the story of Earl and Cheryle Yazzie, farmers in Shiprock who will be celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary Oct. 2 and are praying for the

‘An attack of who we are’

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation’s president and vice president are telling people to not sign EPA compensation forms for damage and injury caused by the spill. From KOB-TV in Albuquerque:

The EPA says that although they have six months to resolve a claim, it “will make every effort” to respond to claims for this particular incident “as soon as possible.”

But Wednesday, Navajo President Russell Begaye sent a directive to cease any promotion of the form, saying it contains “offending language that will waive future claims for individuals that sign the form and preclude [Navajos] from seeking full compensation for injuries suffered from the spill.”

A disclaimer near the bottom of the first page of the form says: “I certify that the amount of claim covers only damages and injuries caused by the incident above and agree to accept said amount in full satisfaction and final settlement of this claim.”

The Navajo Nation directive says that if people sign the form, they forfeit any further compensation for damages suffered beyond the date it is signed, leaving the possibility that people affected years down the road will not receive any further compensation.


Thanks to Magnus Sjögren for idea.