The Need for Groundwater Wells

Currently, 40% of Diné households do not have running water and 47% of residents of Bodaway chapter do not receive water through a utility company. Residents must drive long distances to haul water from cities or have water delivered, both of which are time consuming and expensive (Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, 2011).

Groundwater wells could provide homes with access to water that would have otherwise been unused in current municipal water sources. An increase in groundwater wells would reduce the distance people need to travel for water and the resources they must expend in doing so.

Overview of Groundwater Wells

Throughout the rural United States, groundwater wells are the most widely used method of obtaining water in the absence of a municipal system. Especially in the Navajo Nation where rainwater and surface water are scarce, groundwater is the most reliable source of water since it is less dependent on day-to-day rainfall.

Technical Details

Groundwater wells are dug on top of aquifers. They must be drilled below the water table. This is done by using drill rigs with rotary and percussive drill bits for deep drilling; the average well depth is 552 ft in Arizona and 1019 ft in New Mexico (USGS Groundwater Levels for New Mexico, 2018). After the hole is drilled, casing is used to provide stability and keep out dirt and contaminants. Casings can be steel, plastic, or stainless steel depending on the specific site (US EPA, 2017). Grout is then pumped into the space between the wall of the hole and the casing. Well screens are then placed on the bottom of the casing to block debris while still allowing water to flow through. A submersible pump within the well casing is placed at the bottom of the well and connected to a power source at the surface (Weber Well Drilling & Geothermal, 2013).


The highest impacts for aquifer depletion are industry and agricultural irrigation (USGS, 2016). Installing more wells for strictly home use are not likely to have a large impact. In addition, the likely shutdown of the Navajo Generating Plant will further reduce strains on the aquifer system (Morales, 2018).

Implementation in the Navajo Nation

Number of Wells Needed

A single groundwater well is sufficient to serve 500 people (Damon Brown, personal communication, Thirst Project 2018). However, the Navajo Nation is very rural with a population density of only 6.33 people per square mile. Thus, a challenge when choosing the location of a well is not the number of people using it but instead the distance people must go in order to access the water.

A standard expectation is that water sources should be within 1,000 meters of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes (United Nations, 2015). Putting a well within 1,000 meters of every home is not feasible in the Navajo Nation due to the low population density. For homes with access to a car and a place to store water, a well within a few miles of each house would be a great improvement.


Listed below are the steps necessary to put in a groundwater well found (Navajo Nation Technical, Construction and Operations Branch). The times are rough estimations.


Approximate Timing

Archaeological clearance for to approve new roads to drill site and the drill site itself (A minimum of one acre of land is needed to receive clearance for well drilling) 2- 4 weeks
Consultation with civil engineer/compliance officer for environmental/wildlife issues1-2 weeks
Site approval by home site leaseholder, farm plot holder or local grazing official (grazing permit needed)1 week
Submission & approval of well drilling permit and water use permit applications and driller2-3 weeks
Drilling and installation of pumps 1-2 days 
Total Estimated Timing:6-11 weeks

Legal Steps to Installing a Groundwater Well

It is important to note that the Navajo Nation owns all water on the Navajo Nation, so utility companies don’t charge for the water delivered, only the services of filtering and transporting(Navajo Nation Technical, Construction, and Operations Branch).

In order to proceed in drilling a well, the following steps must be taken: 

Obtain a approval/permit from landholder, and if on government property, grazing permittee, county delegate, or chapter official (Navajo Nation Technical, Construction, and Operations Branch). 

All parties involved must get a water use permit and well drilling permits, each costing $25.

Submit a permit application, however water from utility companies is covered by company’s permit. Link to permit application below)

Water use fees per gallon are waived for domestic use, nonprofit use, and farming.

A resource with detailed instructions on how to proceed with drilling a well on the Navajo Nation is linked here:

Costs and Potential Sources of Funding

General Cost Estimations of a Well:

It is difficult to make broad generalizations when estimating the cost of a well. The price is very variable depending on specific geologic and hydraulic conditions of the location in addition to the intent of the use of the well. The average well depth in the Navajo Nation is 708 ft (Heard, 2018). Estimating the drilling cost to be between $25 to $40 per foot, we estimate costs to be between $17,700 and $28,320. Additional costs for machinery to pump water from the well can cost between $2,000 and $8,000, bringing total costs to between $19,700 and $36,320.

Below we provide some very rough estimates for wells in Arizona and New Mexico.

Estimated Costs in Arizona:

The average depth of a well in Arizona is about 550 ft. Estimating the cost to be between $25-$40 per foot, we estimate costs to between $13,750 and $22,000. Additional costs for machinery to pump water from the well can cost between $2,000 and $8,000, bringing total costs to between $15,750 and $30,000. Again, we would like to stress that these are rough estimates (Cost Helper, 2018).

Estimated Costs in New Mexico:

The relevant information could not be found for New Mexico. The average depth of wells in New Mexico is 1,019 ft, roughly twice that of Arizona, so we would expect base costs to nearly double. Thus, we very roughly estimate a well in New Mexico would cost between $28,000 and $52,000. However, these base costs could be affected by the specific geology and hydrology of the region, and thus these are only rough estimates (US EPA, 2018).

Possible Sources of Funding:

The EPA provides information on several grants that could be applicable to the Navajo Nation (EPA, 2018). The USDA Rural Water Development Program could be a good option for the Navajo Nation; they list tribes as a group that is specifically eligible (USDA Rural Development, 2018). More information on these funding sources can be found here:

Discussion of Other Considered Solutions

We had previously considered trying to conserve water by recycling greywater, but chose to instead focus on groundwater wells because the only potential use for greywater would be for agriculture or toilet flushing. However, recycled greywater can not be used for agriculture in the state of Arizona (Oasis Design, 2001). Also, this would likely not be a realistic solution in the Navajo Nation since greywater recycling is only applicable for those with running water in their homes, and is collected from sinks, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers.

Bodaway Case Study Specifics

Current Location and Use of Groundwater Wells

The Coconino Aquifer (or “C-Aquifer”) underlies the region that we have chosen to focus on in the Bodaway Chapter, and and is also the main source of water for the Cameron, Leupp, Ganado and Chinle chapters (Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, 2011).

This map shows the location of wells in the Bodaway chapter (Navajo Nation Wells, 2018).

Bodaway has a population of 1,704. Most of the area is very rural, with about a fourth of the population centered in Bitter Springs in the northern portion of the chapter. Thus, the challenge as previously stated is not overloading one well with people but instead the distance between wells. One well could supply the Bitter Springs region and could feed into the large scale filtration system outlined on the filtration page. We would need to install more wells and implement small-scale filtration devices as outlined on the filtration page. Specific locations of housing units or small-scale population densities within the Bodaway chapter could not be found, but wells should be placed so that no household must travel more than a few miles to a well to keep collection time along UN guidelines specified above.

Estimated Costs in Bodaway

The Bodaway chapter is mostly Navajo sandstone, which can be difficult to drill through. Average drilling cost is between $25 to $40 per foot, so we estimate the cost to be $40 per foot, taking into account the difficulty of drilling through sandstone. The average depth of a well in Bodaway is about 525 ft (Arizona Department of Water Resources). Thus we estimate the drilling cost to be around $21,000. Additional costs for machinery to pump water from the well can cost between $2,000 and $8,000, bringing total costs to between $23,000 and $29,000. Still, it should be emphasized that costs depend heavily on the very specific spot upon which they are to be drilled however this is only a rough estimate (US EPA, 2018).

 Sustainability in Bodaway

More groundwater wells in Bodaway will not be a concern for sustainability. The C-aquifer has a volume of 413 million acre-feet (Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, 2011). Bodaway has a population of 1,704, and 47% of those people do not have access to water through utility companies (Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, 2011), leaving 800 people that would access water from groundwater wells. Assuming that people use 50 gallons of water a day, this amounts to 14,616,060 gallons per year. This is only about 45 acre-feet, which is only 0.00001% of the total volume of the aquifer.