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Navajo Nation Prepares Lawsuit Against EPA After Mine Spill

Donovan Quintero/Navajo Times

The 3 million gallons of mining waste that spilled into Colorado’s Animas River is now flowing into the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation. Tribal officials have declared a state of emergency and are preparing to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

Several tribal communities along the San Juan have shut off their taps from the river until further notice from the EPA. The emergency declaration signed Saturday allows further tribal funds to support relief efforts on the Navajo Nation.

The spill was caused by EPA investigators while examining the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez says he wants full accountability from the federal government.

“We want to hold whoever was responsible for this spill and hold them accountable the full extent of the law. This is going to be a long-term cleanup. We can’t just let this go,” says Vice President Nez.

He says farmers dependent on the San Juan River for irrigation could be facing the loss of entire crops. Without access to water, area livestock could also be in jeopardy. He, along with President Russell Begaye and other tribal officials are demanding more information from the EPA regarding the level of danger posed by the toxic plume.

The EPA says tests of the contaminated water are ongoing.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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