Irrigation canals will remain closed for up to a year after 100 Navajo farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico, voted down a resolution to allow recently contaminated water be used for consumption in their community. The contaminated water originates from a toxic spill into the Animas River, which was caused by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee during a visit to an abandoned mine.
The unanimous vote was a difficult one to make and will cost the population a large supply of their crops, Duane “Chili” Yazzie, the Shiprock Chapter President, said on Aug. 24.
He said that there was concern that the soil would be contaminated and would affect future generations.
“Our position is better safe than sorry,” Yazzie said.
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However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Navajo Nation EPA have both assured residents that the water is safe to use for irrigation and farming purposes. Moreover, other communities living on the reservation have also said the water is safe to use for drinking, irrigation and recreation, the Associated Press reported.
Russell Begaye, the Tribal President and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the mine spill, continued to speak out against the federal government’s lack of assistance to the communities surrounding the contaminated water.
“I am furious that the U.S. EPA has placed the Navajo Nation into this position,” he said. “Our farms will not last much longer without water, and our resources are depleting.”
Begaye urged communities to pass written resolutions with an official position on the issue. So far, Shiprock is the only community to do so, according to tribal spokesman Mihio Manus. Manus also said that farmers may be reimbursed by the government for extra costs in transporting fresh water from other locations.
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In an agreement with Begaye, the EPA stopped providing water to the community on Aug. 21.
David Gray, an EPA spokesman, said the agency is looking at other ways to deliver fresh water to the population. The community originally turned away the water being delivered because traces of oil were found in the containers which the water was being held in.
“We’re going to struggle to save what we can and what we lose, we’ll expect somebody to provide compensation,” Yazzie said.
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