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Navajo Nation Fights Pollution From EPA Spill
A portion of the San Juan River.

San Juan County is home to the very northernmost portion of the Navajo Nation. County officials expect the contaminated water from Colorado’s Gold King Mine to reach Utah by Monday. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that 3 million gallons of polluted water have entered the river system, up from its initial estimate of one million gallons. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority shut off water pumps in the communities of Montezuma Creek and Aneth.

Douglas Wright, superintendent of the San Juan County School District, said that the Navajo government is taking steps to decrease the pollution’s impact on everyday water use.

“While they have shut down the wells, they filled up all the storage tanks and they’re committed to hauling water to keep those tanks full so that there should be no impact on the water users in the community,” Wright said. “Their hope is to minimize the impact on human consumption and human use of water. The major impacts will be more with agriculture and animals. As far as safe drinking water and other culinary-type uses, they believe that they can keep up with the demand by hauling water from other sources.”

The contaminated water is flowing from the Animas to the San Juan River, where it will eventually empty out into Lake Powell. Wright has attended several Navajo chapter meetings, the rough equivalent of a county government. He said that many people are frustrated but are determined find a solution.

“There’s certainly concern, certainly a lot of outrage over the fact that it’s happened and especially that the EPA, who’s responsible for taking care of these kinds of things, is the one that caused it,” he said. “In general, I think they understand that they can work through it. There’s so many challenges that students down in this area face anyway, and the people who live here, and to have something like this layered on top of that just doesn’t seem fair. We would hope that they would be cautious and recognize how a river is such a lifeblood to these people down here.”

Roughly 1,100 people live in Montezuma Creek and Aneth.