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Navajo farmer group will sacrifice crops to avoid using mine-contaminated water

One of the largest communities of Navajo farmers along the San Juan River has voted to keep irrigation canals closed for at least a year after a spill of toxic sludge at a Colorado gold mine.

The unanimous vote by more than 100 farmers in Shiprock, N.M., was heart-wrenching and guarantees the loss of many crops, Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said Monday.

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But farmers don't want to risk contaminating the soil for future generations, he said. "Our position is better safe than sorry."

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation EPA have said the water is safe for irrigation, based on surface water testing. Other communities off the reservation have cleared the water for drinking, recreation and irrigation.

The Navajo Nation has been hesitant to lift restrictions on using the river water, mostly over concerns about contaminants from the 3-million-gallon spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado on Aug. 5.

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