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CBS Sunday Morning Viewers Open Wallets for Navajo Nation

Navajo Water 5

Last week on CBS Sunday Morning withCharles Osgood, correspondent Lee Cowan and producer Sari Aviv had a cover story about the efforts to get water to some parts of the Navajo Nation, where people live without running water.George McGraw, executive director of DigDeep, a non-profit trying to build a well there, was featured in the piece.

Building a well for the Navajo would cost upwards of $500,000. According to McGraw, since the piece aired Sunday, Aug. 16 he’s raised $550,000, with more coming in.

According to McGraw, the money raised from CBS Sunday Morning viewers will pay for a new well with additional donations used to buy fuel to a water delivery truck and build basic plumbing in some homes.

“The generosity of CBS Sunday Morning viewers will allow us to expand our work to other communities in need, until there’s no American family left there without water,” McGraw said, adding there’s still work to be done. “Smith Lake is just one community among many facing similar conditions. Almost 90,000 people on the Navajo Reservation don’t have safe, running water at home.” Here’s the story:

CBS Sunday Morning Viewers Open Wallets for Navajo Nation


Navajo Nation Opts to Keep San Juan Closed

Navajo Nation Opts to Keep San Juan Closed
Many farmers in the Navajo Nation, who use the river for livestock and irrigation, remain concerned about the water quality in the river.     Photo: Sue Nichols / Flickr

Navajo Nation Opts to Keep San Juan Closed

Due to contamination concerns following Gold King mine spill

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye will uphold restrictions on using water from New Mexico’s San Juan River for farming purposes for at least one year, according to a Monday news release. The Environmental Protection Agency declared that pollutant levels in the river had returned to normal on August 15, ten days after 3 million gallons of hazardous waste leaked from the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado, into the Animas and San Juan rivers. But many farmers in the Navajo Nation, who use the river for livestock and irrigation, remain concerned about the water quality in the San Juan River.

“Please understand this is very stressful for them, and this is their livelihood,” Megan Cox, a spokesperson from the Navajo Nation president’s office, told the Guardian. “They are growing organic crops and do not want to harm the land, their crops or any individuals by exposure to these chemicals.”

At a meeting on Saturday, Begaye discussed reopening canals accessed by the farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico. The farmers voted 104-0, with nine abstaining, in favor of maintaining existing closures for another year.

“No testing has been done on the Navajo reservation,” Joe Ben Jr., Shiprock’s farm board representative, told the Guardian. “And the tests were not disclosed; which metals were present? If we knew, we could make a decision.”

Navajo Nation farmers intend to gather water from water hauling companies contracted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Mercury finds its way into Grand Canyon

Arizona Daily Sun

Mercury in Grand Canyon
August 25, 2015 3:45 am  •  EMERY COWAN Sun Staff Reporter
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It was almost three years ago that mercury levels in fish in Lake Powell spurred state regulators to issue a fish consumption advisory for striped bass.

Now, new research shows that mercury, as well as selenium, aren’t staying put in Lake Powell, but are slipping past Glen Canyon Dam and ending up in everything from algae to bugs and fish downstream.

The U.S. Geological Survey study found that concentrations of mercury and selenium in Colorado River food webs of the Grand Canyon regularly exceeded risk thresholds for fish, wildlife and even humans.

Despite being one of the most remote ecosystems in the country, the river as it flows through the Grand Canyon isn’t immune to exposure from toxic chemicals like mercury, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a release about a new study. Exposure to high levels of both elements has been linked to decreased reproductive success, growth and survival of aquatic and terrestrial species in the ecosystem, according to the USGS.

Likely sources include naturally occurring selenium deposits as well as air pollution containing mercury generated as much as half-a-globe away.


Based on data collected at six sites along nearly 250 miles of river downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, the researchers found that the mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows, invertebrates and fish exceeded dietary toxicity thresholds set for fish and fish-eating wildlife. It also found that the mean mercury concentrations in many of the fish studied exceeded the risk threshold for humans.

The one piece of good news is that the mercury levels found in rainbow trout, most commonly eaten by anglers, were still below the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency that would trigger advisories for human consumption, according to a USGS summary of the study.

“Every fish we looked at from Glen Canyon was way below any risk threshold and the fish we looked at downstream were way below that threshold as well, so it doesn’t appear to be any risk to humans through consumption of trout,” said Ted Kennedy, a USGS researcher at the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, who was a co-author on the study.

There are no consumption advisories in place for any of the fish harvested from the study area.

The study was the first of its kind that looked at the extent and magnitude of contaminants in the Grand Canyon, Kennedy said. The study focused on trout, because they are most likely to be consumed by humans, but it also looked at five other species of fish including the threatened speckled dace, common carp and flannelmouth sucker, a species of special concern under the state of Arizona.

The study makes clear that more research needs to be done, especially related to potential risks to humans who consume fish from Grand Canyon or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, according to the paper.


It also produced some surprising findings, Kennedy said.

One was the fact that the tissues of bigger rainbow trout didn’t exhibit greater, or even the same, mercury levels as smaller trout, defying the process of biomagnification, where chemical concentrations increase higher up the food chain, Kennedy said. The explanation lies in the unique dynamic of the Grand Canyon ecosystem, Kennedy said.

Insect food sources for fish are quite limited in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, most likely due to temperature and flow regimes of the regulated river, Kennedy explained. While smaller fish can satisfy their caloric needs by eating just insects, there aren’t enough of the invertebrates to make up the entire diet of larger fish, forcing them to feed on other less calorie-dense organic matter like algae, Kennedy said.

The catch is that blackflies, a key food source for trout, are also a prime source of mercury contamination because they eat a type of algae that carries high amounts of a bioavailable form of mercury.

“We think (the mercury) is getting picked up by that algae in Lake Powell and exported into Grand Canyon,” Kennedy said.

Another interesting part of the study was that the researchers didn’t observe any developmental side effects like deformities that are normally associated with mercury, which is a neurotoxin.

That finding is evidence of a well-documented relationship between selenium and mercury whereby, in the right concentrations, selenium protects animals from mercury toxicity, Kennedy said.

“If both of these things are at high levels together, it can mitigate effects of having just one of them in a high concentration,” he explained.

Tracing mercury sources

Kennedy also recognized that the U.S. Geological Survey’s food web study opens up the need for additional research into exposure pathways in order to figure out where exactly the mercury and selenium ending up in the Grand Canyon are coming from.

While selenium concentrations come from irrigation of selenium-rich soils in the upper Colorado River basin, most mercury found in the Grand Canyon ecosystem is deposited from the atmosphere, the USGS paper said. That means it is harder to trace to a specific source, though.

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining and then coal combustion are the two largest anthropogenic sources of mercury emissions, according to the EPA. Environmental groups have pointed to the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants around Lake Powell as prime culprits for mercury deposition on the lake.

The USGS study does acknowledge the power plant, which emits 420 pounds of mercury per year, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, as one potential source, but it emphasizes that’s certainly not the only likely offender.

“Navajo Generating Station is a potential source, but there’s a lot of atmospheric mercury out there even before you consider Navajo,” Kennedy said.

Linking mercury contamination in Lake Powell, or in the Colorado River Basin, to specific sources is difficult because it remains in the atmosphere for up to six months after it is initially emitted, said David Gay, coordinator of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. That’s long enough for mercury emitted in one place to waft up into the atmosphere and then get carried hundreds or thousands of miles, Gay said.

University of Nevada-Reno researcher Mae Gustin has studied the sources of mercury that ended up in California and Nevada and came to findings similar to Gay. Several of Gustin’s research papers found that atmospheric mercury sources were lofted pollution from California’s major cities or air that traveled from as far away as Asia, which is the biggest source of mercury globally.

“Mercury is a global pollutant,” Gay said. “Everybody is in it together.”

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or

Southwest’s water crisis hitting Navajo people first – and hardest


 LEUPP, Ariz. – A lifetime of declining snowfall on the Navajo Reservation is making an already unforgiving desert landscape increasingly uninhabitable.

Snow tracked at six northeastern Arizona weather stations has plummeted by more than two-thirds on average since the 1930s, according to research led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Dozens of streams that flowed year-round on the reservation now dry up seasonally, and the parched springs and wells along their banks send isolated residents on long drives for store-bought water.

Local temperatures rising on average 2 degrees Celsius since the 1960s have sapped moisture. The advancing water crisis here could be a preview of the Greater Southwest’s challenges, as warming winter temperatures morph snow into rain and accelerate evaporation across the highlands.

The Salt and Verde rivers, a crucial supplier to the Phoenix area, originate in the snows that ring the reservation along the Mogollon Rim. And the Colorado River, lifeblood of the entire Southwest, starts with Rocky Mountain snows that also are fading.

“It’s just hitting the Navajo people first,” USGS geomorphologist Margaret Hiza Redsteer said.

And perhaps hardest.

As in Bolivia and other global pockets of poverty, worsening water scarcity comes down hard on those with the fewest means of adapting. The Navajo Nation’s median household income of about $20,000 is less than half Arizona’s average. The tribe’s Economic Development Division lists the unemployment rate at 42 percent and the poverty rate at 43 percent.

The drying has forced major changes on Navajos, making their lives even more difficult.

“We used to go to the river and plant corn,” said Alice McCabe, 70, a Navajo who has lived her adult life in and around Leupp. “But not anymore, because it gets dry.”

That family farming ended 30 years ago, for her and her neighbors who roasted a traditional corn variety and also used it in ceremonies.

“Now we’re just buying sweet corn from the stores (in Winslow),” McCabe said.

Likewise, she and husband, Jimmie McCabe, 73, used to retrieve water from a spring a couple of miles away from his ancestral homestead out a web of dirt roads west of Leupp. The spring dried up 15 years ago, he said. Now, though the tribe provides drinking water in Leupp, they often stock the ranch with bottled water from their 60-mile round trips to a Winslow supermarket.

“For a long time there’s no snow,” he said.


The first hit


Eighty years of declining snowfall have changed the landcape of the Navajo Nation, with direct implications for the Navajo people. (David Wallace/The Republic)

Effects of drying


The McCabes’ memories match the story that the government researcher, Hiza Redsteer, has compiled with colleagues through interviews with 73 Navajo elders. The interviews are part of a forthcoming study of the Navajos’ vulnerability to climate change.

“Used to be a lot of running water in the wash,” said 70-year-old Levi Biggambler, who was born next to Jeddito Wash on the boundary with the Hopi Reservation and still lives there.

He recalls his family’s plots of corn, watermelon and other crops that he can no longer grow.

Hiza Redsteer’s study includes one resident’s memory that Jeddito Wash flowed consistently in the 1960s and 1970s, and many families planted fields there. Another recalled that in the 1930s the soil was moist to several centimeters in depth, because of deep snows.

Data from weather stations in the reservation’s Tsezhin Tah region north of Winslow indicate that annual snowfall that averaged about 17 inches in the 1930s declined steadily to 5 inches by the 21st century, Hiza Redsteer found.

Both the interviews and historic scientific journals recall widespread planting of corn and other crops along river floodplains, Hiza Redsteer said, where today there’s not enough water. Dry riverbeds are, instead, a major source of blowing dust.

Where snow has switched to winter rain, she said, the moisture is less able to sustain streams and springs through the dry times of year. Much of it runs away or evaporates quickly instead of melting into the soil, and increasing warmth makes shrubs and grasses thirstier.

The changes on Navajo land reflect a broader trend. Scientists say a warming climate threatens snowpack and moisture throughout the Colorado River basin, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Though the snowpack decline that Hiza Redsteer tracked at six sites is stark, it’s impossible to put a number on the total century-long decline across the reservation. Numbers from a larger government network of snow stations are only available going back to the 1980s.

Data from those sites mostly demonstrate the effects of the past 15 years of drought, broken by a couple of wet winters brought on by ocean temperature shifts known as El Niño.

Margaret Hiza Redsteer, a geomorphologist with the

Margaret Hiza Redsteer, a geomorphologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, walks through sand dunes on the Navajo Nation outside of Teesto, Ariz. She says the crisis created by the drought in the Southwest “is … hitting the Navajo people first.” (Photo: David Wallace/The Republic)
  • Margaret Hiza Redsteer, a geomorphologist with the
  • Levi Biggambler, 70, and his his wife, Linda Biggambler,
  • Levi Biggambler his wife, Linda Biggambler fill containers
  • The Biggamblers begin the drive back home after filling
  • Levi Biggambler finishes the journey to get fresh drinking
  • The sand dunes near the Biggamblers' home on the Navajo
  • A pickup truck kicks up dust while driving on a dirt
  • Winds in April kick up dust at Canyon de Chelly National
  • Alice McCabe, 70, splashes water for her livestock
  • Light from solar arrays illuminates the face of Mitch
  • Robert Seaman, left, a University of Arizona chemical
  • A flower grows out of a dried lakebed, called a playa,

Several University of Arizona researchers who authored a 2012 paper on snowpack changes in the interior West found that as temperatures crept up in recent decades, snow and its moisture content declined. This was especially true in watersheds in the vicinity of the Navajo Reservation, including the San Juan River, which joins the Colorado at Lake Powell.

That drainage’s snowpack, on its highest day of winter, has lost about 2 inches of water per decade since the study data’s starting point in 1984. It shrank while temperatures warmed by 0.6 degrees Celsius per decade. Though rain replaced some snow, overall winter precipitation also declined.

The San Juan monitoring sites experienced the Southwest’s worst declines in the study, though the Lower Colorado — including the Salt and Verde rivers that help supply metro Phoenix — also lost snow and water.

Gregg Garfin, a University of Arizona climate scientist who helped write the Southwest chapter for a 2014 National Climate Assessment, noted that his colleagues also determined the snow is melting earlier and covering the ground fewer days.

“All snow-related parameters are going in the direction of less snow,” he said in an e-mail.

The National Climate Assessment that Garfin co-authored projected a dramatic decrease in the Arizona high country’s already skimpy snowpack if greenhouse gas emissions continue increasing. Measured against the late 20th-century average, Garfin’s team predicted 12 percent of normal moisture in the snowpack by 2100.

Upstream states that contribute the bulk of the Colorado River are not expected to suffer such losses, percentage-wise, though their losses will hurt the regional water balance more. Colorado, for instance, is the river’s biggest source and is projected to lose 26 percent of its snow moisture.

“We need every drop of water that we can get from the Colorado,” Garfin said.

A new source?


Robert Seaman, left, a University of Arizona chemical and environmental engineering research technician, and Seth Lawrence, a Northern Arizona University mechanical engineering undergraduate, repair a desalinization plant outside of Leupp, Ariz. (David Wallace/The Republic)


This summer the McCabes trekked from their Navajo homestead to a nearby community well, to hoist sticks atop a shade structure for their cattle milling around a trough there. The well is deep enough to draw water, but it’s tapping ancient seawater that is too salty for people — not the percolated snowmelt that once sustained people here.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, with help from University of Arizona engineering students, is working on that. They’ve assembled a solar-powered desalination plant next to the well to test a system that one day could be replicated across the reservation.

The well is clear of uranium contamination, a threat for many wells around a reservation that once hosted hundreds of unregulated uranium mines.

An array of photovoltaic panels and mirrors both pumps the water and heats it in a distilling process that recovers 95 percent of the water and dumps the rest with the salt. It’s working, but the researchers aren’t yet sure of the cost per gallon.

The technology that University of Arizona engineers are testing at a Navajo Reservation well uses solar energy to heat a nontoxic glycol solution, which in turn heats water for purification.

The heat vaporizes the water and increases pressure in a pipe containing thousands filter membranes arrayed like bunched-up straws. Pure water passes to the outside of the straw, but dissolved solids including salt can’t. This is the same process that orange juice suppliers use to remove water and make juice concentrate.

The resulting distilled water is mixed back with some of the source water to provide a suitable level of minerals and ions. The remaining unpurified water containing the concentrated brine is dumped into an evaporation pond.

The Bureau of Reclamation has given the university $75,000 in each of the past two years to work on the project, and will seek $150,000 next year for a parallel test of a reverse-osmosis system with the same power source, testing which is more efficient and reliable.

“This is one small component (of a regional water plan),” said Mitch Haws, the bureau’s project leader. “It this technology works, it will service about 135 households in the area.”

The goal, he said, is to perfect a system that can be replicated and turned over to the tribe’s local governments for routine operation and maintenance. He expects the remote plant to produce about 1,000 gallons of clean water daily for households and their livestock.

For now, there are still kinks. This summer Haws spent a morning trying to wrench the sun-tracking mirrors into proper alignment because blowing sand had locked up bearings in the automated system.

The water rising from this well is full of dissolved solids — essentially salt — at 1,400 parts per million. That’s double the levels in the Colorado River, and 400 parts per million above the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking standard.

But it’s just a fraction of the salt content in the ocean, about 35,000 parts per million. Haws believes solar desalination projects cleaning moderately salty water could be a major part of the Southwest’s future water security.

“We’ve dammed all the rivers that we’re going to dam,” he said. “I think desalination is the next source.”

Parched landscape


Alice McCabe splashes water on her 3-year-old grandson, Jayden. She uses the water for her livestock. (David Wallace/The Republic)


A functioning water treatment plant would save a lot of trips to town for residents like the McCabes and their neighbors near a seasonally parched stretch of the Little Colorado River.

“Tell them to hurry,” Alice McCabe said as they continued their journey to the well.

Her nephew, 53-year-old Raymond Stayne, lives at the dry homestead. He sometimes drives 80 miles to Oak Creek Canyon, south of Flagstaff, for spring water, because he believes it makes the best coffee. Sometimes, though, he just drinks from the salty well, “If I don’t have anything. If I’m dying of thirst.”

Tens of thousands of Navajos lack safe drinking water in or near their homes. They include more than 50,000 who haul from unregulated, potentially contaminated sources, according to tribal water officials.

The tribe may yet be awarded a needed slice of the Colorado River, as other tribes have through federal negotiations. But the river is a shrinking resource with no guarantee that even currently binding allocations will hold up in a future with vastly more Southwesterners.

Federal projections, thought conservative by many scientists, predict a river flowing about a tenth behind its historic pace by midcentury.

At Tolani Lake, northeast of Leupp, a flat that once routinely collected water streaming off a mesa is now a dry playa. It was a corn farming center in the 1970s, Hiza Redsteer said, but now grows only dry brush.

That brush and various invasive plants are sucking up more water as the cold season shrinks, she said. At nearly 5,000 feet elevation, the area experienced high temperatures in the 60s last January.

“When that happens,” researcher Hiza Redsteer said, “plants aren’t dormant in winter anymore.”

She believes the drying land and resulting difficulty raising livestock is forcing young Navajos to seek jobs elsewhere. The overall tribal population grew slightly between 2000 and 2010, but the U.S. Census found that the reservation population declined nearly 4 percent, to 174,000.

Ann-Marie Chischilly grew up on the reservation in Shonto, Ariz., and now is saddened when she returns from Flagstaff to the drought-stricken village. Medicinal plants that her grandparents taught her about no longer grow there.

“That little community used to be an oasis with lush yards and gardens,” she said. Now, “When it’s just a little bit windy, the dust is just unlivable.”

Chischilly directs the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at Northern Arizona University. She fears that continued drought will force more to truck their water as wells dry.

The tribe, she said, must plan for “surviving what could be a difficult time in our history.”

Read Part 2: Already a luxury, water gets more scarce for the poor

Read Part 4: Early snowmelt on the Rockies threatens Arizona’s water supply

EPA releases internal report into Gold King Mine spill disaster

Filed Under: Environment | National | Politics
More on: 114thcoloradodoiepagold king minenavajonew mexico,sciasouthern uteutahwater

According to the EPA report on the Gold King Mine,”The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the entrance blockage seems to be a primary issue at this particular site,” the report stated. “If the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered. However, the team cannot determine whether any such steps would have been effective, or could have been implemented prior to a blowout.”

Animas River pollution


From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examine conditions on the San Juan River last week. Photo from Navajo Nation President / Facebook

The Environmental Protection Agency released an internal report about the Gold King Mine spill on Wednesday.According to the report, contractors at the site underestimated the water pressure at the mine. As a result, excavation work accidentally caused a “blowout” on August 5, unleashing about 3 millions of gallons of toxic mine waste into the water system.“The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the entrance blockage seems to be a primary issue at this particular site,” the report stated. “If the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered. However, the team cannot determine whether any such steps would have been effective, or could have been implemented prior to a blowout.”The report is the first government-led assessment of the incident, which prompted the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute TribeColoradoNew Mexico and Utah to declare emergencies and issue disaster declarations. Water conditions immediately after the spill showed high levels of mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins.

The scene of the spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. Photo from EPA

Conditions on the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico have since improved. But Navajo leaders refuse to lift restrictions on the use of the San Juan out of concern for agricultural crops and livestock.The Office of Inspector General at the EPA is also reviewing the incident and the Interior Department has launched a review at EPA’s request.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on September 16 in Washington, D.C., to address the impacts of the spill on the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Tribe.

Get the Story:

Talks continue about reopening irrigation system on Navajo Nation (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/27)
Investigation: EPA, state missed potential for mine blowout (AP 8/27)
‘Insufficient’ planning cited in EPA investigation of Gold King Mine spill(The Durango Herald 8/27)
Wildlife officials survey Animas River fish in wake of Gold King Mine spill(The Durango Herald 8/27)
Navajo Nation committee hears irrigation concerns from chapter officials(The Farmington Daily-Times 8/26)
Navajo Nation President reinforces San Juan River restrictions (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/25)
Legal experts say they need more time to determine mine spill fallout(The Farmington Daily-Times 8/24)
Shiprock Chapter opposes irrigation activities (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/22)Related Stories:

Senate Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearing on EPA mine spill (8/26)
Native Sun News: Tribes respond to toxic spill at abandoned mine (8/25)
Navajo Nation remains cautious after spill impacts water system (8/21)
Navajo Nation farmers losing crops amid mine spill concerns (8/18)
Leader of EPA visits Navajo Nation after mine spill in Colorado (8/13)
President of Navajo Nation upset with EPA’s response to spill (8/12)
Navajo Leader: ‘This is an assault on who we are as Dine people’ (8/11)
Navajo Nation to sue EPA over release of mine waste into waters (8/10)

EPA Water Pressure evidently never checked before Colorado mine spiill

Via San Juan Citizens Alliance Page

EPA’s internal report on the Gold King Mine blowout released details about what exactly went wrong. An independent investigation is also being done.
This highlights the need for extensive resources to address the other 22,000 old mines in Colorado.

Denver West-Denver Post-Agency says, Gold King Mine not checked for water volume. By John Paul The Denver Post
Animas River pollution

August 13: One of the retention ponds underneath the Gold King Mine on August 13, 2015. The San Juan County and the city of Silverton have a rich mining history with hundreds of mines being in the county including the Gold King Mine which spilled wastewater into the Animas River. Many of these mines were left abandoned or not properly bulkheaded which opens the possibility of wastewater draining into the rivers and creeks below. (Brent Lewis, Denver Post file photo)

Dangerously high levels of water pressure behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King Mine were never checked by the Environmental Protection Agency, in part because of cost and time concerns.

The revelations came Wednesday as the EPA released an internal review of a massive Aug. 5 blowout at the mine above Silverton. The report called an underestimation of the pressure the most significant factor leading to the spill.

According to the report, had crews drilled into the mine’s collapsed opening, as they had done at a nearby site, they “may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”

The EPA-triggered wastewater release sent yellow-orange sludge cascading through three states and the land of two American Indian tribes. The internal review for the first time reveals what the EPA believes went wrong at Gold King, which 14 months before the spill they knew was at risk for blowout.

“It is not evident that the potential volume of water stored within the (mine’s opening) had been estimated,” the review said. “Given the maps and information known about this mine, a worst-case scenario estimate could have been calculated and used for planning purposes.”

According to the review, drilling into the collapsed opening would have been “quite costly” and taken more time because of soil and rock conditions at the site.The review says crews believed that because water was leaking from the Gold King and based on seep levels above its opening, a buildup of pressure was “less likely.” Because of those signs, officials say, drilling appeared to be unnecessary.

“The mine was draining,” Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator in the office of solid waste and emergency response, said Wednesday during a media conference call.

EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month that conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.

The report says, however, that decreased wastewater flows from the mine, which had been leaching for years, could have offered a clue to the pressurization. Also, a June 2014 task order about work at the mine said “conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages.”

The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the mine’s blocked opening “seems to be a primary issue,” according to the review. It went on to say that if the pressure information had been obtained, other steps could have been considered.

It did not elaborate on what those steps could have been.

Stan Meiburg, EPA’s deputy administrator, said during the call that “provisions for a worst-case scenario were not included in the work plan.”

The review, summarized in an 11-page report and led by five EPA workers from multiple EPA regions and headquarters, includes a list of recommendations for further agency mine work throughout the country, including new approaches to mines at risk of blowout and emergency action plans to deal with such disasters.

The investigative team called the mine’s blowout “inevitable” and said actions by those at the scene — who the review said had “extensive experience” — probably prevented fatalities.

The Department of the Interior is conducting an external review of the spill, and it is expected to be released in October. The Congressional Science, Space and Technology Committee also is investigating the blowout.

Cynthia Coffman, Colorado’s attorney general, on Wednesday said the EPA’s internal report is still being mulled over by her office. She and her counterparts in New Mexico and Utah say they are weighing a lawsuit against the EPA.

The Navajo Nation says it intends to sue.

“A non-federal, independent review is a must,” Coffman said in a statement to The Post. “I don’t trust the EPA or this administration to investigate itself. It would have never allowed BP to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, or

An investigation into living conditions in the Navajo nation of the southwestern United States

Correspondent Nina Donaghy takes a look at why the Navajo Nation is living in ‘third world’ conditions in the middle of the United States.




“This is how Farmington / EPA treats Shiprock residents. They brought in 10,000 gallon water tanks and filled it with water and this how it came out. People, we’re mad at the Chapter House today.”

EPA water bottles

Geologist Predicted EPA Would Intentionally Poison Animas River A Week Before Toxic Spill

The Free Thought

By John Vibes on August 12, 2015



Silverton, CO — Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled over a million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas river in Colorado. This is, of course, ironic considering the fact that the EPA is the government organization that typically prosecutes people for crimes against the environment. In this case, however, the EPA has declared that they are above the law and free from any type of fines or prosecution.

The waste was spilled from an abandoned mine shaft and has now contaminated large stretches of water and connecting rivers that reach into various bordering states. Over 3 million gallons of wastewater containing a number of toxic chemicals is now destroying untold miles of precious waterways.

To make matters even worse, the EPA actually had a warning about this a week prior to the disaster. A week prior to the spill, retired geologist Dave Taylor wrote a letter to the editor in “The Silverton Standard” pointing out that the EPA was planning a maneuver that could potentially cause toxins from mineshafts to flood into rivers. He also suggested that the EPA was aware of the possible outcomes, and were going forward with the plan anyway to gain funding.

In the letter, Taylor wrote:

“But make no mistake, within seven days, all of the 500gpm flow will return to Cememnt Creek. Contamination may actually increase… The “grand experiment” in my opinion will fail.

And guess what [EPA’s] Mr. Hestmark will say then?

Gee, “Plan A” didn’t work so I guess we will have to build a treat¬ment plant at a cost to taxpayers of $100 million to $500 million (who knows).

Reading between the lines, I believe that has been the EPA’s plan all along.”

The full letter can be read below:




The EPA actually has no concern for the environment, they just happen to use the environment as a cover story to create laws and gain an advantage for the companies that lobbied for exemptions to the agency’s regulations, and to collect money in fines. There are real solutions outside the common government paradigm, and that is mainly the ability for individuals, not governments, to hold polluters personally and financially accountable

John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at


EPA withholds mine spill documents from Congress


By Tori Richards


Aug. 12, 2015: Water flows through a series of retention ponds built to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals from the Gold King mine chemical accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo. (AP)

A congressional committee blasted the Environmental Protection Agency today for blocking release of documents related to the Gold King mine disaster, which poured deadly chemicals into the largest source of drinking water in the West.

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the EPA failed to meet the House Science Committee’s reasonable deadline in turning over documents pertaining to the Gold King Mine spill,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “These documents are essential to the Committee’s ongoing investigation and our upcoming hearing on Sept. 9. But more importantly, this information matters to the many Americans directly affected in western states, who are still waiting for answers from the EPA.”

Smith – who frequently spars with the EPA – is chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. EPA director Gina McCarthy has been asked to appear and answer questions about the agency’s role in creating a 3-million-gallon toxic spill into Colorado’s Animas River on Aug. 5. Critics say McCarthy and the EPA have been unresponsive, secretive and unsympathetic toward millions of people who live in three states bordering the river.

For several days, the EPA didn’t notify the states of Utah, New Mexico or the Navajo Nation that the spill was coming their way. McCarthy waited a week before visiting Colorado and even then she refused to tour Silverton, the town nearest the Gold King mine where EPA contractors unleashed the toxic plume into waterways that feed the Colorado River. The agency withheld the name of the contractor working on the project and other details that are generally considered public information. Lastly, the Navajo Nation, which relies on the river for drinking water and farming, received an emergency supply from the EPA in oil-contaminated containers.

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