663 MILLION PEOPLE LACK ACCESS TO SAFE WATER
Safe Water to drink – protecting our children forward seven generations, that is what it is about. and reducing the number of health problems associated with ingesting too many of these contaminants. It is also about dignity. Access to clean drinking Water is a human right. And the legacy of uranium contamination is very ugly.
Water is the first medicine. Water makes a way for us to come into this world. Throughout the world indigenous women knelt on the ground when they gave birth. The first thing that happened was their “Water broke”. Water flowed out onto the ground and sanctified the spot where the Earth was going to receive life. That is how important Water is. When Death makes it claim the body is washed in Water and put away back into the Earth.
In order to have healthy bodies we must have healthy Water. Nothing survives without Water in some form.
The Navajo Nation estimates that up to 30% of the population (approximately 54,000 people) do not have piped water to their homes. These residents haul water either from safe watering points or from unregulated sources, such as livestock wells and springs. The number of unregulated water sources is estimated to be in the low thousands.
NNEPA policy prohibits the use of unregulated sources for human consumption because these sources are not routinely tested and regulated in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. These unregulated sources are susceptible to bacterial contamination, including fecal coliforms. Some of these unregulated water sources exceed drinking water standards for uranium and other chemicals.
Nevertheless, human consumption of unregulated water is reportedly widespread due to a lack of public water systems in the more remote and sparsely populated regions of the Navajo Nation. The use of unregulated water sources is the greatest public health risk associated with drinking water for the Navajo Nation.
Water Sampling Results in the Navajo Nation
These documents provide more information about EPA’s work to provide safe drinking water to communities affected by uranium contamination.
Contaminated Unregulated Water Sources (PDF)(2 pp, 34 K, November 13, 2012)
This is a table with the results of testing of water sources in the Navajo Nation.
- Northeast Church Rock Water Well Sampling 10/19/2010 (PDF)(53 pp, 4 MB, April 21, 2011)This is a report of water well sampling in the Northeast Church Rock area in 2011.
- Navajo Nation Water Well Sampling 10/20-21/2010 (PDF)(52 pp, 3 MB, April 20, 2011)This is a report of water well sampling in various locations in the Navajo Nation in 2011.
- Navajo Nation Unregulated Water Source Sampling 10/12-19/2009 (PDF)(10 pp, 76 K, August 2010)This is a report of water well sampling of unregulated water sources in various locations in the Navajo Nation in 2009.
- Navajo Nation Drinking Water Source Sampling 2/26 – 3/7/2008 (PDF)(156 pp, 9 MB, August 28, 2008)
This is a report of water well sampling in various locations in the Navajo Nation in 2008.
On the Navajo Nation, children with the most severe developmental disabilities attend a school called Saint Michael’s Association for Special Education.
Dameon David, 8, is waking up from a nap in his classroom. He has come to the school in northeastern Arizona for four years. He has cerebral palsy, seizures and scoliosis. His mom, Felencia Woodie, picks him up from a bed with Superman sheets.
“Other schools that he was going to go to, they didn’t have the nursing staff or the equipment he goes in, or the trained staff that they have here to do his suctioning, his feeding and his medications daily,” she says.
“It has a certain stench to it. Sometimes you’ll smell … kinda like a egg smell,” Woodie says. “Sometimes it’s yellow, brown, or even we’ve seen black.”
Many of the kids at Saint Michael’s are medically fragile. So they have equipment that needs to be cleaned daily. The staff refuses to use the tap water to wash equipment. Instead, they use 5-gallon jugs of filtered water trucked in from many miles away.
More than one-third of the Navajo Nation — which is the size of West Virginia — doesn’t have running water. And at some of the places that do, like Saint Michael’s, people don’t want to drink it because it smells, tastes funny and looks bad.
“Everybody knows me around here. They’ll be waving at me,” she says from behind the wheel of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission water truck.
|“They call me the water lady.”
That’s because Arviso hauls water for tribe members of the Navajo Nation, where, on average, residents use 7 gallons a day to drink, cook, bathe and clean. The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 gallons a day. Arviso drives to 250 homes a month, filling residents’ plastic barrels, buckets, jars and any other containers the families have. When people see the giant yellow truck coming down the road, Navajo member Georgianna Johnson says, it’s as if they’ve seen Santa coming down the chimney. “You know what we do? ‘The water truck’s coming! Get the buckets ready!’ We get all happy. Today’s the day I’m going to take a bath,” Johnson says.
“Water’s got to do with everything. It really does. To wash the dishes, my aunt tells us the rinsing water is still clean. She said, ‘Use that the next time when you gonna wash dishes.’ So that’s how we make the water stretch,” she says. About 40 percent of the Navajo Nation has to make their water stretch. The water here in Smith Lake comes from the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission well, about 50 miles away. For more than three decades, the mission has provided water to this Navajo community.
But the once-a-month water truck deliveries are far from the perfect solution. The roads often become impassable in the winter, and barrels run dry. Many resort to melting snow or collecting water from livestock basins. So the mission has sought help from George McGraw, the founder of a nonprofit called DIGDEEP. It provides water systems to developing countries.
“It really is an incredible injustice. If you’re born Navajo, you’re 67 times more likely not to have a tap or toilet in your house than if you’re born black, white, Asian- or Hispanic-American,” McGraw says.
After several surveys, McGraw’s team found clean water 1,800 feet below the surface and will begin digging a well this spring. Once DIGDEEP raises enough money, it will pipe the water to people’s homes. Arviso laughs when she recalls the day she got running water 15 years ago. “We were all happy seeing the water, and we let our water run for like five minutes in the restroom and then in the kitchen,” she says. Arviso is the only one in her extended family with running water, so her sisters, her four adult children and her grandchildren all come to her house to shower, do laundry and fill their water barrels.
Nearly 30 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives lived in poverty in 2014 – approximately double the nation’s overall poverty rate. And about 7.5 percent of Native American and Alaska Native homes did not have safe drinking water or basic sanitation as of 2013, according to the government’s Indian Health Service.
Tribes have spent years lobbying the government for adequate funds to improve impoverished living conditions and to recover from crises such as exposure to water poisoned by uranium and arsenic, but they often have difficulty competing for aid compared with places like Flint, Michigan, which has received extensive media coverage and subsequent aid to solve its lead crisis.
President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposal does include money to improve the water supply – notably, a $157 million boost to a state infrastructure fund that traditionally includes a 2 percent earmark for tribal projects. The National Congress of American Indians, a tribal advocacy group, has called for that 2 percent allocation for tribes from the EPA-administered Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to be increased to 5 percent.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says the national attention and resources given to the 100,000 Flint residents marks a “day-and-night difference” compared with the response to mining pollution that in August contaminated water in the San Juan River used by his tribe.
“It indicates to us that we are not a priority,” Begaye says. “Maybe it is because we don’t have the voting influence that Michigan has. Whatever the factor is, we definitely have been ignored.”