A Mesa UNITY youth leader is collecting bottled water for Navajo Nation residents after the Environmental Protection Agency triggered a spill that sent three million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned Colorado mine into the Animas River earlier this month. The spill caused the river, which runs into the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation, to turn into a yellow orange sludge. Nicole Lucero,18, a member of the Navajo Nation, has collected dozens of cases of bottled water to distribute to those immediately affected by the spill. Lucero, who now lives in Mesa, grew up near the towns of Farmington and Aztec, New Mexico, which are close to the San Juan River.
The EPA confirmed the wastewater contained zinc, iron, copper and other heavy metals. Federal and tribal officials, who have been testing the water, now say the quality of the San Juan River water on the Navajo Nation has returned to what it was before the spill. However, Navajo Nation leaders fear the spill will affect the tribe for decades to come as tribal farmers and ranchers use the water for crops and livestock. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says he wants the EP to remove all contaminated sediment from the San Juan River and expects the agency to pay for his tribe’s hardships and expansive emergency response.
“I started the water drive because I grew up near the river. I loved going to the park that the river ran through. Now that I don’t live there anymore, it saddens me that my childhood memory has been contaminated by the federal government. As a child, my grandfather would take us to the river and pray. He told us ‘We must protect Mother Nature for she is our home.'” Lucero, who used the UNITY headquarters as a drop off site, will deliver the water in the near future.