Navajo President Russell Begaye has ordered police to confiscate large tanks full of water delivered to the reservation for farmers and ranchers to use for crops and livestock.
The water, which arrived in 16,000-gallon tanks, was intended to fill the gap caused on August 5 when Environmental Protection Agency crews working at Colorado’s Gold King Mine accidentally released three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers. The spill prompted Navajo officials in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona to close access to the river and halt irrigation pumps while EPA officials tested the water.
Thirteen big, black water tanks were delivered to the New Mexico part of the reservation, with nine of those going to Shiprock. Residents lined up with buckets, barrels and tanks of their own, but quickly noticed that the water in the tanks was no more safe than was the river water.
“When people got water from some of those tanks, they put it in 6-gallon jugs and brought it to the chapter,” said Duane “Chili” Yazzie, president of the Shiprock Chapter. “Some of the water was reddish colored or brownish. Some of the water was oily and some had a petroleum smell to it.”
Some residents used the water before realizing it was contaminated, Yazzie said. One woman complained that her plants had an oily sheen the morning after she watered them.
“These people are desperate,” Yazzie said. “The hopes of the farmers of actually being able to save their crops was obliterated because the water is tainted.”
After hearing the complaints, Begaye decided to investigate on his own. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Begaye fills a Styrofoam cup with water from one of the tank’s spigots then dips a finger in the water.
“This is oily,” he says. “How can anybody feed this to their cows? They are ingesting oil into their body, into their system.… For us to feed this to our animals, our crops, there’s no way.”
In the video, Begaye says he has asked the EPA to remove the water tanks. Then he ordered the Navajo police to confiscate two of the tanks for evidence.
The EPA had hired a local company, Triple S Trucking, to haul tanks full of water to the reservation. The water came from a nearby municipal water source.
In a statement to KOB-TV in Albuquerque, Triple S Trucking said it will investigate the problem. Triple S, which has offices in New Mexico, Utah and Pennsylvania, specializes in delivering water for fracking operations.
“Triple S Trucking has received assurances that each of the tanks that were used were steam cleaned and inspected prior to use at Shiprock,” the company stated. “Triple S Trucking will continue to work cooperatively to investigate this complaint about contamination of the agricultural water.”