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Film Delves Into Navajo Water Woes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Water is a precious commodity. But what happens when it becomes polluted – both naturally and manmade?

The 35-minute film “Four Stories About Water” aims to tell how the Navajo Nation is dealing with these exact problems.

Bronco Martinez tells the story of his grandfather’s discovery of uranium and others describe what happened after mining began near Gallup. Louise Nelson discusses the Rio Puerco tailings spill. David Begay covers spiritual and philosophical aspects of water – contamination, cleanup and health concerns.

For Deborah Begel – who is co-producer and director – getting involved with the film was a no-brainer.


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“I’ve mostly worked in producing lots of public service announcements for radio,” she said. “With this project, I was allowed to expand my horizons, all while learning and telling a story about an environmental issue.”

Begel, along with Johnney Lewis, Chris Shuey and David Lindblom, spent nearly two years working on the project. The crew did about five different shoots throughout the Navajo Nation.

“We found very interesting stories along the way,” she said. “The majority of the stories are in Navajo and translated with English subtitles.”

In the film, experts with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Navajo Nation EPA and the DiNEH Project all speak about the problems.

Yolanda Barney, who is with the Navajo Nation EPA, said about 30 percent of the population doesn’t have access to water.

“It’s because they are isolated or they were hooked up but no longer can pay for the services,” she said.

And the problems don’t stop there.

Filmmakers interviewed Louise Nelson, who lives along the Rio Puerco, about when the uranium tailing mine broke in 1979. The break sent 5,000 gallons of water per minute through the area. The water was chock-full of uranium, which seeped into the soil.


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Nelson said this incident was the beginning of many problems from Manuelito to Gallup. She said the situation is scary and that many of her family members have died.

“I am the only survivor,” she said in the film. “I have their death certificates. They died from cancer, prostate, pancreas.”

According to the film, the EPA has put more than $5 million into studying the problem and making the areas safer for residents.

The film is broken up into four parts: “Part 1: Uranium The Discovery,” “Part 2: Prairie Dogs,” “Part 3: Thirsty Horses,” “Part 4: Water for Friends.” Begel said each part was crafted to tell one complete story.

“It was difficult to edit the film because we had so much footage,” she said. “We didn’t want to compromise the stories. What began as a 15-minute film turned into more than 30 minutes.”

Begel said the goal is to bring awareness to the problem and start a discussion.

“We’re planning on entering it into some film festivals,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy year promoting the message and making a change.”

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