UPDATE 8/25 at 12:30 p.m.: President Russell Begaye is awaiting soil and sediment samples from the Navajo Nation's Environmental Protection Agency before deciding whether to remove restrictions on irrigation from the San Juan River, according to spokesperson Mihio Manus. Begaye, a farmer himself who's relied on the river, met with farmers in Shiprock on Thursday, Aug. 20.
The Navajo Nation EPA said initial testing results showed that water in the San Juan River is safe for agricultural use. But farmers in Shiprock have voted unanimously to keep the irrigation shut off through the end of this growing season.
Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said it was a difficult decision for farmers who rely on their fields for income and food.
"We would prefer to sacrifice here at this point to make sure that we will turn on uncontaminated water back into our systems next spring," he said. "We’re just still not sure about the types of contaminants and the levels of contaminants that are in the river. We would rather be safe than sorry."
Yazzie said people would rather save what plants they can than get compensation for a loss of crops.
A tanker filled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has salvaged some fields in Shiprock, with farmers hauling the water manually, he said.
Navajo Nation President Begaye has so far maintained restrictions on the river. But compromises may need to be reached down the line, Yazzie said, because two other communities also use the San Juan River irrigation system, and Shiprock sits right between them.