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Navajo Nation to sue EPA over toxic wastewater spill

The Navajo Nation plans to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over the release of contaminated wastewater from a mine in southwest Colorado that has affected the nation "religiously, emotionally, financially," according to the nation's president, Russell Begaye.

Last week, about three million gallons of wastewater were accidentally spilled into the Animas and San Juan rivers when an EPA team was investigating contamination at the Gold King Mine. Begaye told Time on Wednesday that more than 100,000 Navajo people who live along the San Juan River have been affected, including those who have had their drinking and irrigation water cut off and farmers who had to relocate their cattle and must now pay for new hay and to haul water. The lawsuit will ask the EPA to pay for such expenses. "People living along the river are forced to drive up to 200 miles to find bottled water," he said. "People with an average salary of $12,000 are expending dollars on things that they wouldn't have."

Begaye said he has received inaccurate numbers from EPA officials concerning how many gallons spilled, and was told that it could take "decades" for a full clean up. Begaye also said the agency had been warned something major could occur: "The EPA could have designated the mine area as a Superfund site. They had long been told by geologists that the catastrophe was going to happen."