Navajo Nation bears burden of recent Animas mining spill disaster in Colorado

After the Animas River spill, rancher Irving Shaggy is forced to travel a 70-mile round trip to get water for his livestock. "It's going to be a long struggle," he says. Laurel Morales/KJZZ


After the Animas River spill, rancher Irving Shaggy is forced to travel a 70-mile round trip to get water for his livestock. "It's going to be a long struggle," he says.
Laurel Morales/KJZZ

The Environmental Protection Agency was investigating an old mine near Silverton, Colo., earlier this month, when it accidentally released 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River.

At first, EPA downplayed the scope of the spill, providing little info to those nearby, or news organizations. Navajo President Russell Begaye traveled to the source of the toxic spill and posted a video of it on Facebook.

He's standing in front of the still-leaking mine in the clip, which went viral. "This is the story that was related to us just now," he says. "The person was working the backhoe and trying to block off more of this area, but then he saw a spring ... and the water burst through here and it went straight down the mountain."

From the NPR story about that video, and the people whose lives and livelihoods are at stake:

The mustard-colored water then flowed downstream to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo Farming Authority has shut off public water intakes and irrigation canals, leaving hundreds of Navajo farmers driving long distances to water their crops.

It's where rancher Irving Shaggy gets water for his family's livestock and to irrigate his fields.

"[I've] been growing sudangrass for my cattle and sheep, which is our livelihood," Shaggy says. "We sell the wool; we sell the cattle every year."

But Shaggy doesn't know if his cattle will be contaminated and unsaleable. He fights back angry, tired tears at the disruption of his usual routine.

"I mean, I'm upset, mostly because every two days I haul water to my livestock," he says. "And I get it from the river and I irrigate my fields."

Now, he says, he has to make a 70-mile round trip to get water.

Navajo Nation Farmers Feel The Weight Of Colorado Mine Spill [npr]