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Navajo Farmers: EPA Sent Us More Contaminated Water

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chilli" Yazzie

Update Aug. 18, 11:30 a.m.: The EPA said the water for the Navajo Nation came from nearby Bloomfield and met state and federal quality standards. The trucks came from a division of an Aztec, N.M.-based company, Triple S Trucking, that moves non-potable water. The company also hauls fluids to and from oil fields. KUNM awaits comment from Triple S. 


Farmers in Shiprock say the tankers arriving with desperately needed hydration for their crops contained water that smelled like petroleum, was visibly discolored and had an odd sheen to it.

“The barrels are not clean,” said Farm Board Representative Joe Ben Jr. “They are from oil drilling operations.”

The deliveries were intended to help crops that are wilting in the sun after the spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado on Aug. 5 contaminated the San Juan River downstream. Ben halted the distribution of the emergency replacement water. “The EPA has begun to study this water,” he said. “In the meantime, our plants are dying.”

EPA testing results for the San Juan River were not released until 10 days after the spill.

The farmers are outraged, Ben said, and they have yet to receive one clean gallon from the EPA, which took responsibility for the Animas River spill. “I am at the point where I just don’t understand this situation no longer,” he said. “There are no resources extended to us.”

There are about 450 farmers in the Shiprock area, which is the agricultural hub of the Navajo Nation. “This is a national resource—a treasure,” Ben said.

Navajo Nation authorities are not in agreement about the viability of the water that was delivered by Triple S Trucking, the private company hired by the EPA, said Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie.

It’s not clear what the long-term plan is yet, Yazzie said, but the Navajo Nation mobilized every available water delivery unit, and the trucks are headed to Shiprock. They are scheduled to arrive this afternoon or evening.

“Right now it’s getting to a critical stage,” he said. “If the farmers don’t get water today. The plants will start withering.” Yazzie’s seen some of that already on his own farm. “If they have to wait three or four more days, it’s probably too late.”

Ben said farmers are planning a demonstration for tomorrow. 

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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