Getting Youth Involved in Well Testing

Many of the wells in the Navajo Nation go unregulated (and consequently, not routinely tested), due to a shortage of personnel and the fact that wells are too far spread to be reached conveniently (EPA, 2018). In order to gain awareness and regulation for these wells, we can encourage Diné students, who are directly and domestically affected by the issue, to test the wells they regularly use to ensure that those wells are safe. We can offer avenues of action to those same students, who’ve been raised with the Diné creed of “giving back” (E. Peyketewa, personal communication, Sept. 17, 2018), by providing both the knowledge and materials that will allow these students to make an impact on their home situation in regards to well regulation.

DYnO (Diné Youth and Outreach) is a proposal that, if implemented, would seek to educate youth from multiple Diné family clans hailing from multiple regions on the current state of water contamination and how to test for it in wells. They would be equipped with basic technology (metal test strips and standard testing kits) that help them gather data on water quality; they would also be able to use the youth initiative to contact appropriate officials in the event that they find a highly contaminated or usable well. In addition, the data (location, contamination levels, other geographic features) gathered by the participants could be compiled into reports that would then be published online. Up-to-date census and regional info is unfortunately scarce on the internet, and this program could work to change that. Finally, a Navajo government-sponsored youth initiative would increase the involvement of the Navajo government in this ongoing concern, as well as providing a way for Diné students and other youths to get involved in an issue that currently affects all of their people.


This program could run in one major school in each major Diné city, once a city is determined to have a substantial Diné student population, and teach all the youth volunteers in one setting during after school hours. Since the group case study is Bodaway, an eligible city could be for this program could be Tuba City, Arizona. The program should be marketed primarily to Diné students, who can contribute the most towards this program’s mission. To this end, major Diné towns, where a significant portion of Diné youths from nearby regions pursue an education, are one of the few places where Diné of various family clans and locations may be found in the same area, especially given how sparsely distributed Diné residents of the Navajo Nation live (an average of 6.33 persons per square mile, whereas other states average in the thousands)(U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).

We would suggest this program as an optional afterschool program, since it’d be difficult and time-consuming to overhaul a pre-existing curriculum.

Time Frame

Launching this program may take some time: there needs to be a supply of testing technologies, someone (most likely from the Navajo Nation) able and willing to teach the ideas, and the approval of the schools to use their classrooms. Once those arrangements have been made, however, the program would be composed of four to five lessons, which would probably be concentrated into two weeks or spread throughout a month. If this project proves operational in the implementation (see: Metrics for Success), then it could be possibly expanded into a long-term semester project program for those who choose to pursue it further.

Metrics for Success

If the participants of this program are able to discover at least one well viable for human consumption, then this program is a resounding success. However, there are softer and more plausible benchmarks to judge successes on. If the online reports of the students can be used as a source of information for everyone wanting to make a difference in the Navajo Nation, then that is also a success. It could also be a more specific purpose for this program to narrow in on. Ultimately, however, the continuation of this program would depend on the assessment of the Navajo government.


All of the technologies procured for the students need to be counted in the cost of this proposal. In addition, there is a salary for the educating official, any assisting personnel, as well as the cost to provide dinner to all the attendees per lesson. Baldwin Meadows test technology (pH, lead, iron, copper, alkalinity, chlorine, fluoride, nitrite, nitrate) costs around 30 cents per test, Zoro Metal Test Strips are around 8 cents to $1.50 per strip, and uranium tests are much more costly as they require outsourcing. The National Testing Laboratory charges $50 per test with estimated shipping costs between $35 and $60. A good number of lessons would be between four and five: each testing kit should have a lesson to explain how to use it (each lesson could also be devoted in part to fundamentals of environmental engineering) and a class to compile the results the students gather. If the online report idea takes off, there could be a final class that publishes the data (spreadsheet format) onto a website. Our very own Mission 2022 website could hold the data for future use. Supposing a group of twenty to thirty students attend and one official teaches them all over the course of four to five lessons, the program would cost around $4,000.


30 (maximum) Uranium Tests – $1200

Approx. 2 Metallic Testing Kit – $100

Salary for Teaching Official (estimated workload of 15 hours) – upwards of $450

Salary of Assisting Personnel – $2000

Rent/Extraneous (May include dinners) – $250

Diné Feedback on Plan

Karyn Denny, a Legislative District Assistant for the Navajo nation, has mentioned that a similar program, the Navajo Nations Corps (of the Navajo Preservation Dept.) is currently in operation underneath the Navajo Government (K. Denny, personal communication, Nov. 8, 2018). There isn’t a lot of accessible information about this project outside the Navajo Nation, but it is run by Anthony Ciocco and funded through Americorps. Given the precedent, the Diné seem receptive to the idea of youth initiatives.

Possible Problems

This program would not run without sufficient government support, monetary and labor-wise. On the other hand, there remains the question of what will happen once an unsafe well is located. The government could take direct action, but those locations can also be used as additional case studies. For example, thought implementation of filtration solutions could occur as a result of identified contamination.  More research and Diné feedback need to be acquired before anything can be said for certain.