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Navajo Nation Residents Still Without Running Water, Basic Utilities

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Laurel Morales/KJZZ

Darlene Arviso is known as the water lady in Smith Lake, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. She delivers water to 250 people each month. Here, she fills buckets from her water truck.

Nevada is one of the driest states in the country, yet swimming pools are filled, lawns are watered and water flows from the tap whenever we need it. But what if it didn’t?

That’s the case for many people who live on the Navajo Reservation, which sprawls across Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It’s estimated 40 percent of that reservation has no access to running water.

Ethan Millman recently reported about the situation for Cronkite News.

“It’s hard when the Navajo Nation doesn’t have the money and resources,” Millman said.

He said currently people without running water have to go to local water holes and fill up bucks or barrels of water and drive homes, sometimes several miles. People who have livestock to water must go several times a day. During busy times, people will wait two hours to get water. 

George McGraw is the founder of the Navajo Water Project, a nonprofit water advocacy group working to get water to the Navajo Nation residents.

He started the project after another nonprofit he works with, Dig Deep, received a donation. Dig Deep works on bringing clean water to areas of Sub-Saharan African. However, the woman who made the donation asked that her money be used to bring water to people in the U.S. who didn't have running water.

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McGraw was skeptical at first, but the woman took him to communities on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico that had no running water and the project was created.

Many of the homes, McGraw said, don't have running water simply because there are not enough resources to go around.

“In a lot of cases water lines to some homes would cost a lot more than the homes and the property they sit on,” he said.

The so-called "last mile" communities are left out because of the cost. Instead of trying to raise that money, The Navajo Water Project installs a cistern at home with a pump, filter, and heating system. It then trucks water from nearby wells to people's homes and fills up the cisterns. 

“Before we came in and helped this community to think about how to solve this issue themselves and how to get behind a solution, a lot of the clients we talked to every day just had no hope that they would see running water in their lifetime,” McGraw said.

If the home doesn't have electricity, which many homes on the reservation do not have, the project installs solar panels. 

“We are serving communities in a way that is exciting and unique and in a way that other people can’t,” he said.

McGraw said they haven't received much pushback from anyone on the project. They've just run into rules that have been in place for years that don't accommodate his group's efforts. Most of the water, sewer, and power infrastructure is provided and paid for by utility companies or municipalities, not nonprofits.  

Guests

Ethan Millman, sustainability reporter, Cronkite News; George McGraw, founder, Navajo Water Project 

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