Disaster/Environmental Emergency: Contamination of Primary Water Source | Utah, Arizona and New Mexico
Impact on Tribe: On August 5, 2015, an EPA excavation at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado released 3 million gallons of toxins into the Animas River that flows into the San Juan River cutting through many Navajo communities. The Navajo Nation was on high alert for contaminated water, as the toxins included high levels of arsenic and lead. The tribe posted signs along the San Juan River to ensure the safety of livestock and warn against swimming. The public health nurse educated tribal members about the water toxicity and coordinated getting safe drinking water to residents. Economically, the Gold King Mine spill severely impacted farmers dependent on the San Juan River for irrigation of corn and other crops. Overall, the U.S. Census reports that the lack of available jobs contributes to impoverishment impacting about 37% of families on the Navajo Reservation.
PWNA Aid Requested: On August 12, a Community Health supervisor from the Gallup, NM CHR/Outreach Program, Zena Smith, reached out to PWNA. She connected us with Ruth White, Acting CHN Director in Kayenta, AZ — the region then most affected by the EPA spill. By August 17, Ruth requested bottled water from PWNA, helped coordinate the delivery and distribution with PWNA and the Navajo Nation emergency management team, and was there with eight staff unloading the first PWNA semi fully loaded with pallets of water. Soon after, PWNA received two additional requests for aid from other Navajo communities, coordinating its response through Harland Cleveland, the Field Command Leader, and others at the Navajo Nation Command Center in Window Rock, AZ, as well as Arthur Bavaro, Community Service Coordinator of the Chapter House in Nenahnezad, NM.
PWNA Disaster Response:
Impact/Feedback: In the aftermath, Duane “Chili” Yazzie, President of the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation, said, “The farming communities here lost 75 percent of our crops... Because of the heavy contamination, they turned off our irrigation system. We didn’t have water for our crops or animals, and it was a great time of devastation. The people were thrust into a very dark moment…”
Video on relief for Navajo Nation during EPA water emergency:
For other news about the mine spill and water contamination, visit these pages: