Significance of Our Mission
The Navajo Nation faces severe challenges of water security, being in one of the most arid climates in the United States. Spread between the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the nation receives around an average of 10 inches of rainfall per year (Arizona Department of Water Resources, 2018). Climate change and future drought projections predict even less available water from precipitation moving forward, and 40% of Navajo households already do not have access to running water (Navajo Water Project, 2018). This means many Diné (Navajo meaning “the People” or “Children of the Holy People”) must haul water from potentially contaminated sources, an issue that is only projected to worsen in scope as groundwater sources, or aquifers, are depleted. With increasing water needs due to projected climate change, drought periods, and water management issues, aquifers will be depleted faster than they can be recharged.
Map of major rivers in the Navajo Nation (National Geographic Society, 2013)
Contamination presents a huge obstacle to accessibility of potable water within the Navajo Nation. Abandoned uranium mines, mining disasters, and climate related events have made the conditions of contamination in many regions on the reservation extreme and unsafe for human and animal consumption. Water and sanitation are a basic human right, acknowledged unequivocally by the United Nations (UN Water, 2018). The variability of access to clean, safe water for over 170,000 people, which is the population of Diné living on the reservation, (Bodaway-Gap Chapter, 2008) is extremely alarming.
All people deserve access to safe, affordable water as a fundamental human right, so helping to improve access within the Navajo Nation has been the focus of Terrascope’s Mission 2022. After a semester’s research and communication with Diné people, the class has collected information and developed specific solutions to try to best address the problem. It is Mission 2022’s hope that this aggregated information can be utilized as a resource to learn more about the topic, to inspire ideas or action to combat this or similar problems or to simply start a conversation about how to move forward in the face of climate change and declining water quantity and quality. Their hope is that the journey does not end here, but rather begin. The members of Mission 2022 want to support the advancement of sustainable solutions for water security in the nation and are ready and willing to continue the conversation.
The first portion of our semester began with research into the region’s water history, culture, and geography, in order to develop a better understanding of water rights and the importance of water to Diné culture. Through this research we were also better able to understand the impacts of climate change, politics, and mining on the region.
Current Status as of 2018
Following our research into Diné history, we began to look into the current status of the Navajo Nation region. We analyzed Geographic Information System (GIS) data, demographic and water resources data, and current initiatives.
Effects of Climate Change
After looking into the history and current status of water in the Nation, the inevitable next step was the understanding the future of water security as impacted by climate change. We studied the current effects of climate change as well as projected implications for water availability, contamination, and agriculture.
An important priority was using Diné perspectives to guide our solutions so that they could be compatible with and respectful of Diné culture. We tried to accomplish this and gain broader based approval by consulting with a range of Diné, including students, elders, and professors through class visits, phone and video calls, and emails.
Our Approach and Plan
After developing basic understanding of the region, we tried to develop strategies to address water supply, accessibility, and contamination— priorities that we identified throughout our conversations with members of the Diné community. We then developed solutions for these priorities and evaluated whether they met certain criteria. In the future, we hope these solutions could eventually be personalized to and implemented in each region of the Navajo Nation in some form.