Category Archives: Government Accountability

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

THE DROUGHT ON THE RESERVATION COULD SERVE AS A BAROMETER FOR THE REST OF ARIZONA.

 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.


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The first hit

DROUGHT CHANGES RESERVATION LIFE

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

RIVERBEDS NOW SOURCE OF BLOWING DUST

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?

ENGINEERS TURN TO DESALINATION

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

DRY BRUSH GROWS IN FORMER FARMING CENTERS

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 http://ow.ly/RqIiS

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, jpaul@denverpost.com or twitter.com/JesseAPaul

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.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CCTVAmerica

THE EPA CAUSED WATER DISASTER AND THE “HELP” THE RESIDENTS OF SHIPROCK ARE RECEIVING

THE EPA CAUSED WATER DISASTER AND THE “HELP” THE RESIDENTS OF SHIPROCK ARE RECEIVING FROM CITY OF FARMINGTON AND EPA. Apparently for the agriculture and livestock.

“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 Project.com

By John Vibes on August 12, 2015

image: http://tftppull.freethoughtllc.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/river.jpg

river 

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:

image: http://tftppull.freethoughtllc.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/epaspill1.jpg

epaspill1 

 

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 bookpatch.com.

Read more at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/geologist-warned-epa-intentionally-poison-animas-river-week-toxic-spill/#5imTovwlUHkrBpM5.99

EPA withholds mine spill documents from Congress

FOX NEWS

By Tori Richards

wasteleakinternal15151.jpg

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.

Click for more from Watchdog.org.

Navajo Crops Drying Out as San Juan River Remains Closed After Toxic Spill

Alysa Landry
Cecelia Wallace, of Mexican Water, Utah, stands in her wilted garden Sunday along the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Crops Drying Out as San Juan River Remains Closed After Toxic Spill

8/21/15

Cecelia Wallace stood in her garden in the Navajo community of Mexican Water, Utah, surveying her wilting, sun-scorched plants.

The one-acre garden, a green oasis on the southern banks of the San Juan River, has been without water for almost two weeks. Wallace, 60, is one of thousands of Navajo residents downstream from Colorado’s Gold King Mine, which on August 5 began spewing toxic wastewater into the a river that feeds the San Juan, prompting farmers and ranchers to stop pumping water for their animals and crops.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Wallace said. “All I can do is just watch the garden die.”

Wallace, like many farmers and ranchers who rely on the river, got a frantic phone call when news of the spill broke. Hundreds of miles upstream, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crew had accidentally released three million gallons of wastewater into Cement Creek. The plume was making its way from there to the Animas River, which joins the San Juan River in Farmington, New Mexico, then continues on a 215-mile journey through the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona before emptying into Lake Powell.

RELATED: Toxic River Spill Flowing Across Navajo Nation Is 3 Million Gallons, Not One: EPA

“When I heard about it, I went to my garden and picked as much as I could,” Wallace said. “Then we just waited.”

Wallace was one of many who learned about the spill, but not its details. She knew the mustard-colored sludge was moving downstream, but she didn’t know when it would arrive or how long it would poison her section of the river.

RELATED: Navajo Nation Braces for a Million Gallons of Mining Wastewater

It turned out Wallace had four days to prepare. The waste traveled through portions of three states and three Indian reservations, prompting local, state and tribal officials to declare emergencies and restrict access to the river. The plume reached Wallace’s land in the southeastern corner of Utah on Sunday, August 9.

Wallace watched as the water turned gradually from brown to pink to a bright red-orange.

“It was thick as gravy, running slow,” she said. “Upriver, we could see the red color still coming.”

Details trickled in slowly. First, the EPA reported that samples taken from the river contained extremely high levels of heavy metals, including lead at 12,000 times higher than normal. In preliminary statements about contamination and cleanup, the EPA estimated it could take decades to rid the river and its sediments of toxins.

An estimated 2,000 Navajo farmers and ranchers were directly affected by the spill, which is still pouring out of the mine at the rate of 600 gallons per minute, though EPA officials say it is being treated in settling ponds before being released. Two weeks after the initial breach, the EPA reports that the river has returned to its pre-incident condition. The color has faded, and all three states have lifted restrictions on river usage.

But the Navajo Nation has not given the okay to resume using the water. Citing long-term effects of toxins in the riverbed and banks, Navajo President Russell Begaye continues to warn residents to stay clear while the Nation conducts an independent analysis.

Begaye has launched a website called Operation Yellow Water, where he plans to keep residents updated on river conditions, and said he plans to hold the EPA accountable for cleaning up the mess.

“We are asking that people keep using alternate sources of water,” said Mihio Manus, a spokesman for the Nation’s central incident command center. “We are continuing to advise people not to use it to irrigate, to water livestock or to use it for recreation.”

Tanks filled with thousands of gallons of non-potable water are serving ranchers and farmers along the river’s corridor. Trucks hauling bottled drinking water were dispatched to the more remote areas where residents rely on wells.

Tanks full of non-potable water are available in areas across the San Juan River valley for irrigation and livestock. (Photo: Alysa Landry)

Tanks full of non-potable water are available in areas across the San Juan River valley for irrigation and livestock. (Photo: Alysa Landry)

But in places like Mexican Water, the assistance isn’t going far enough, Wallace said. Here, the nearest paved road is five miles away; the nearest grocery store is 35 miles, and to get to the nearest Wal-Mart, Wallace has to cross two state lines. Here, the spill has left residents shaken, spiritually wrecked and facing financial ruin. And they’re still waiting for answers.

“We knew catastrophe was coming our way, but there was no way to control it,” Wallace said. “We know this river. We know the sediment moves slowly and that the worst of the pollution is yet to come.”

Wallace grew up along a secluded bend in the river where the water is the color of chocolate milk and where the muddy banks are pockmarked with tracks from deer, raccoon and the occasional bear. Tucked into the rust-tinted sandstone cliffs on the far side of the river are remnants of cliff dwellings—evidence that earlier inhabitants also used this fertile valley.

As a child, Wallace and her five siblings bathed and swam in the river. They herded sheep to its banks and labored in the nearby fields, which produced enough food to support the family and many others in the community.

“This was our playground,” Wallace said. “This was where we lived. As a family, we never relied on anyone else. This river was our life support, our income. It sustained us.”

The river is still home for Wallace and four of her siblings, who till the land and grow a variety of produce, including melons, squash, corn and sunflowers—much of which they donate to food banks or deliver to elders.

 

Cecelia Wallace relies on her one-acre garden on the banks of the San Juan River for fresh produce, including sunflower seeds. (Photo: Alysa Landry)
Cecelia Wallace relies on her one-acre garden on the banks of the San Juan River for fresh produce, including sunflower seeds. (Photo: Alysa Landry)

Wallace’s brother, Gerald Maryboy, keeps a herd of 100 cattle on a neighboring plot. When he learned about the Gold King Mine spill, he chased his herd up the hill and began round-the-clock policing to keep them away from the river.

Maryboy, 57, also turned off his irrigation pump and abandoned his fields of alfalfa. The family’s garden, once a lush green strip along the river, now is brown and wilted. Just weeks ahead of harvest, squash and melons lie rotting in the bone-dry soil.

“We were told that everything within 500 feet of the river was contaminated,” Maryboy said. “You might look at this and say it’s just plants, that they can be replaced. But we treat our plants like living beings. This hurts.”

At the beginning of the third week since the spill, Wallace and her family are bracing for more emotional and spiritual fallout. No EPA crews have visited Mexican Water, Wallace said, and she doesn’t know when, or if, the river will be safe to use.

“Years back, when we were kids, the adults used to bless the river with corn pollen and put the four sacred stones into the water,” she said. “Water is life, so they blessed the water. The earth is sacred. The seeds, the growing things, all of them are sacred. Now what will we do?”

EPA OFFERS NO APOLOGY FOR TOXIC RIVER SPILL: ASK NAVAJO CITIZENS TO SIGN THEIR FUTURE RIGHTS AWAY

by Native News Online Staff / Currents / 13 Aug 2015

Animus River waters merged into San Juan River on Sunday

Animas River waters merged into San Juan River on Sunday

OLJATO, UTAH — Two community involvement representatives from EPA Region 9, David Yogie and Secody Hubbard, provided an update on the toxic spill of the Animas River that made its way into the San Juan River to Navajo citizens on Monday in Oljato, Utah.

“The EPA is taking this very seriously and it’s working to control this, first and foremost,” Yogie said.

He said two EPA contractors have been sampling the water along the San Juan River with representatives from the Navajo EPA Surface Mining Program.

Four additional contractors were dispatched to support two teams doing sampling at the river. There are also 12 on-scene coordinators, two public information officers, two community health coordinators and 21 employees and contractors from Denver responding to the spill.

No Apologies

Former Navajo Natioin President Dr. Peterson Zah

Former Navajo Natioin President Dr. Peterson Zah

At the Oljato meeting at the Monument Valley Visitors Center, former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah gave some background on the resiliency of the Navajo people, from the Long Walk to the uranium contamination to the disaster of the San Juan River contamination.

“Many years from now, the Navajo people will still be here on our tribal lands,” Dr. Zah said in Navajo. “They keep trying to get rid of us, but we’re still here surving.”

Turning to Yogie, the senior EPA official that reported, Dr. Zah said he was no different than all the other Navajo elders in attendance.

“What I was looking for (from the EPA) was an apology. We didn’t even get one. I wanted to hear from the U.S. government that they were sorry,” Dr. Zah said. “Maybe you should include that in the first part of your presentation at your next meeting.”

EPA Waivers against Future Claims

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering immediate reimbursements for damages from the Gold King Mine water contamination in exchange for waiving rights for future claims.

On August 11, the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President received report that EPA representatives were in the Utah communities of Aneth and Oljato to encourage Navajo people to agree to the reimbursements.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “The Navajo people need to know that they should not file for reimbursement until the injuries and costs related to the contamination have stopped.”

For individuals who sign the claim, they will not be eligible for claims in the future, if additional injuries or damages arise from the long-term effects of contamination.

OLJATO, UTAH — Two community involvement representatives from EPA Region 9, David Yogie and Secody Hubbard, provided an update on the toxic spill of the Animas River that made its way into the San Juan River to Navajo citizens on Monday in Oljato, Utah.

“The EPA is taking this very seriously and it’s working to control this, first and foremost,” Yogie said.

He said two EPA contractors have been sampling the water along the San Juan River with representatives from the Navajo EPA Surface Mining Program.

Four additional contractors were dispatched to support two teams doing sampling at the river. There are also 12 on-scene coordinators, two public information officers, two community health coordinators and 21 employees and contractors from Denver responding to the spill.

No Apologies

Former Navajo Natioin President Dr. Peterson Zah

Former Navajo Natioin President Dr. Peterson Zah

At the Oljato meeting at the Monument Valley Visitors Center, former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah gave some background on the resiliency of the Navajo people, from the Long Walk to the uranium contamination to the disaster of the San Juan River contamination.

“Many years from now, the Navajo people will still be here on our tribal lands,” Dr. Zah said in Navajo. “They keep trying to get rid of us, but we’re still here surving.”

Turning to Yogie, the senior EPA official that reported, Dr. Zah said he was no different than all the other Navajo elders in attendance.

“What I was looking for (from the EPA) was an apology. We didn’t even get one. I wanted to hear from the U.S. government that they were sorry,” Dr. Zah said. “Maybe you should include that in the first part of your presentation at your next meeting.”

EPA Waivers against Future Claims

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering immediate reimbursements for damages from the Gold King Mine water contamination in exchange for waiving rights for future claims.

On August 11, the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President received report that EPA representatives were in the Utah communities of Aneth and Oljato to encourage Navajo people to agree to the reimbursements.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “The Navajo people need to know that they should not file for reimbursement until the injuries and costs related to the contamination have stopped.”

For individuals who sign the claim, they will not be eligible for claims in the future, if additional injuries or damages arise from the long-term effects of contamination.

Colorado Mine Spill Aftermath: How to Clean a River

by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor   |   August 12, 2015 10:29am ET
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Photo of Cement Creek in Silverton, Colorado, after the Gold King Mine contaminated it with toxic water.

A plume of orange-yellow water gushed into Cement Creek and the Animas River after EPA workers accidentally breached a debris wall holding back the acid mine drainage at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, on Aug. 5, 2015. This photograph was taken Aug. 9 at Cement Creek in Silverton.
Credit: EPA

On Aug. 5, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers inadvertently breached a wall of loose debris that was holding back a pool of mustard-hued wastewater from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

With a sudden gush, some 3 million gallons (about 11 million liters) of acidic, heavy-metal-laden water flooded into Cement Creek, a tributary of the nearby Animas River. From there, the plume headed downstreaminto the San Juan River (a major tributary of the Colorado River), headed for New Mexico and, eventually, Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.

On the way, the plume traveled through Durango and Navajo Nation land in New Mexico, forcing warnings against touching the water,drinking it or using it for irrigation. The EPA is now scrambling to clean up the mess. [See Images of the Gold King Mine Spill]

But how do you clean up a river? The answer, according to the agency and an outside expert, is twofold: treatment and dilution.

Yellow waters

The approximate site of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine breach near Silverton, Colorado.
The approximate site of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine breach near Silverton, Colorado.
Credit: screenshot, by Stephanie Pappas for Live Science

The Gold King Mine is one of an estimated 23,000 abandoned mines dotting the state of Colorado. Prospectors and mining companiesdug gold-bearing ore and other precious metals out of the ground in the state for decades, but they had little responsibility for cleaning up after the mines closed. It wasn’t until the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act passed in 1977 that mining operators had to create a plan for cleaning up defunct mines.

That act established funding for states to clean up long-abandoned mines, like the Gold King (which closed in the 1920s). But funds, drawn from taxes on coal-mining companies, are limited. The Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety gets about $2 million a year, and that amount has allowed the closing of 6,127 abandoned mine shafts in the state since 1980. But that state agency has almost no money for environmental remediation beyond simply closing entrances and preventing mine collapse. There have been previous efforts to turn the area around the Gold King Mine into a Superfund site, which would fast-track funds for the containment of any toxic waste. But local opposition sunk those plans. [8 of the World’s Most Endangered Places]

Meanwhile, abandoned mines leak out toxic wastewater all over the state. The EPA was working at the Gold King Mine as part of an effort to slow acidic mine water that was leaking into Cement Creek from the Red and Bonita Mine farther down the mountain. The plan was to build a cement bulkhead to plug the leak, with pipes that would allow the slow release and treatment of water. Instead, the crew’s machinery breached a debris wall that was holding back the nasty brew lurking in the Gold King Mine.

The mine water is toxic because it contains dissolved pyrite, or iron sulfide, better known as fool’s gold. The combination of iron sulfide, water and oxygen results in the formation of sulfuric acid.

“All you need is air and water” to create acid mine drainage, said Ron Cohen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines who has been involved in mine remediation internationally.

This acidic water then leaches heavy metals — such as zinc, lead and cadmium — from the ground. Arsenic levels also spiked after the mine blowout to more than 25 times the state limit for water safety. The mustard-yellow color of the water is caused by oxidized iron, Cohen said — similar to the rust on an old nail.

“The old-timers used to call it ‘yellow boy,'” he said.

Cleaning up the spill

The EPA’s emergency cleanup is a quick version of typical mine treatment. According to news releases, the agency has excavated four holding ponds below the mine breach. Crews are treating the water in these ponds with caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and lime (calcium oxide), which are very basic in pH. The goal is to reduce the acidity of the water.

“When the water is rather basic in nature, considerably above pH 7 [neutral], most of your metals will come out of the] solution,” Cohen told Live Science.

This process is often visible, Cohen said. Seemingly clear water will turn cloudy as the dissolved metals settle out.

The sludge left behind can be stripped of water and disposed of, Cohen said. Once they’re not in their dissolved form, the metals are far less toxic to the environment.

On Aug. 10, the EPA reported that the water released from its treatment ponds was cleaner and less acidic than the water in Cement Creek had been even before the spill. The agency did not respond to requests for comment.

Time and dilution

The EPA and other agencies are monitoring wildlife and testingwater quality downstream from the mine, all the way into New Mexico. The good news, Cohen said, is that dilution and time will likely go a long way toward mitigating the long-term consequences of the spill.

Three million gallons of water (which spilled out of the mine) equals approximately 400,000 cubic feet. That’s no small amount, but about 8 million cubic feet of water flows through Cement Creek each day, Cohen said. As the contaminated water flows into larger and larger bodies of water, it will become increasingly diluted. Lake Powell currently holds about 560 billion cubic feet of water.

However, that dilution doesn’t negate the ongoing challenges caused by Colorado’s abandoned mines, which tend to wreak environmental havoc on their own. Many leak constantly at low levels, or release toxic waste during the spring melt each year. Others occasionally put out large pulses of contamination. In 2009, thousands of gallons of bright-orange mine waste poured into Clear Creek, west of Denver. Similar spills have happened at the California Gulch Superfund site near Leadville, Colorado, and at the Summitville Mine near Del Norte, Colorado. [10 of the Most Polluted Places on Earth]

“We’ve had many of these spills without the EPA’s help,” Cohen said. Many of the mines closed nearly a century ago, leaving no one to hold responsible for the mess.

“There is a real limitation due to resources — both human resources and money resources — to be able to go after these sites aggressively,” Cohen said.

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