The Real Cost of Non-Revenue Water and How a Water Audit Can Help

Physical losses such as leaking or broken water mains are known as real losses. There are about 240,000 water main breaks per year in the US.
Physical losses such as leaking or broken water mains are known as real losses. There are about 240,000 water main breaks per year in the US.

Every day, United States utilities lose around seven billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water. This “lost” water, referred to as non-revenue water (NRW), is caused by a number of factors, including leaking pipes, water main breaks, theft, and improper accounting of water. In fact, we lose enough water each year to supply our ten largest cities. Of the estimated $200 billion needed over the next 20 years to upgrade our water distribution systems, $97 billion is needed for water loss control. With water crises occurring throughout the country, NRW is a big deal.

How NRW Affects You

Non-revenue water affects everyone in a water distribution system. Although it is considered “non-revenue” water, many utilities include these costs in their rates, which is reflected in your bill. The less NRW a water utility produces, the lower its total costs will be. And let’s face it: no one wants to pay for things they don’t use. Also, a lower percentage of NRW reflects positively on your local water utility’s performance. Utilities with low NRW percentages typically perform well at replacing broken water mains and meters, and defending against theft.

Metering errors, theft, and billing errors result in water "appearing" to be lost. These non-physical losses are called apparent losses.
Metering errors, theft, and billing errors result in water “appearing” to be lost. These non-physical losses are called apparent losses.

When water leaks from pipes, it can erode the subsurface underneath roads and other public
infrastructure. When the erosion reaches a critical point, the road collapses or a building’s foundation can fail. The better your water utility performs in NRW reduction, the less likely your community will need to replace its public infrastructure, especially roads. Our population is continuously growing and without improved efficiency, water supply expansion and treatment projects will be necessary — significantly increasing the cost of water. Improving water use efficiency by reducing NRW defers the expense of water supply expansion and treatment. If we can prevent clean, treated water from getting “lost,” there will be less of a need to find new sources or increase capacity.

Leaking pipes contributing to non-revenue water also can pose a health risk to communities. Contaminated groundwater from leaking sewage or pollution can find its way into drinking water pipes during low pressure events. Contaminated drinking water then has the potential to spread disease and other harmful substances.

Water Audits and NRW

Non-Revenue Water infographic 11x17
Infographic of the high costs of NRW. Click the image to see it full size.

The best way to reduce a utility’s NRW is through routine water audits. Most utilities in the U.S. conduct infrequent water audits and, therefore, are likely suffering substantial losses without even being aware of it. Since 2005, a number of state and regional water resource agencies in the United States have established water audit reporting requirements for water utilities. In addition, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) has developed and published a methodology for identifying and controlling NRW, M36 Water Audits and Loss Control Programs, now in its fourth edition. Tata & Howard Vice President Steve Rupar, P.E. co-authored chapters 4 and 5 of the new M36 manual, which focus on the causes of apparent loss and what can be done to control it. An expert in water loss control, Steve has also given presentations and a webinar on the subject, which can be found here. Water audits help utilities identify the causes and costs associated with water loss, and develop strategies to avoid NRW. They also help to identify areas of a distribution system requiring repairs or maintenance. Water audits are important, especially in the northeast, where some infrastructure is over 100 years old. Preventing NRW helps save our infrastructure, our money, and most importantly, our water.

In Conclusion

NRW affects everyone, and it’s important to monitor and continuously improve water Dripping-Faucet-300x225distribution systems. Water audits are a vital step toward reducing lost water while improving water infrastructure. We lose billions of dollars every year to NRW — money that could be used to improve our infrastructure or to support other clean water initiatives. Water lost is water and money wasted, and the less NRW a utility has, the better off it — and its customers — will be.

Tata & Howard Recognized by Zweig Group as One of the Fastest Growing Engineering Firms in Nation

Tata & Howard Recognized by Zweig Group as One of the Fastest Growing Engineering Firms in Nation


MARLBOROUGH, MA, July 26, 2016 – Tata & Howard, Inc. is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a Zweig Group Fast Growth Award for 2016. The award is based on both revenue and firm growth over the previous three-year period.

“We are thrilled to receive a Fast Growth Award from Zweig Group,” said Jenna Rzasa, P.E., Vice President and Manager of Finance of Tata & Howard. “Our record growth over the past few years can be attributed to many factors, including new clients and projects, existing client care, and our highly capable and skilled staff.”

Contributing to its record growth, Tata & Howard acquired Leach Engineering Consultants of St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 2013 and Roald Haestad, Inc. of Waterbury, Connecticut in 2014, and opened its newest satellite office in Austin, Texas in 2015. The firm also nearly doubled its staff.

“We are honored to be recognized as one of the fastest growing, privately owned engineering companies in the nation,” added Karen Gracey, P.E., Vice President and Manager of Business Development. “Our strong team atmosphere combined with our talented and dedicated staff enables Tata & Howard to consistently provide superior service and solutions to our clients, which is why we continue to experience such unprecedented growth.”

Zweig Group, an organization that provides market research reports, seminars and executive education offerings, business conferences, and management consulting services to architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms, sponsors the award and will recognize Tata & Howard at its 2016 Zweig Group Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference. The conference will be held September 22-23 at the Arizona Biltmore.


Water Crisis in the United States, Part 4: Colonias

colonias-in-texas-300x292Recently in the news, we have heard a lot about the nationwide lead in drinking water crisis and the need to update our aging infrastructure. In addition, the plight of the people living in Navajo Nation has been brought to the nation’s attention after being showcased in a video by CBS Sunday Morning News. However, there is yet another very serious water crisis in the United States that has garnered very little media attention, and this week, we will be concluding our four-part series on water crises in the United States by talking about colonias.

What Are Colonias?

Colonia translates to neighborhood in Spanish, and in the United States, colonias are primarily Hispanic neighborhoods found along the Mexican border in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. With over 2,200 colonias, Texas has by far the most colonias in the nation, as well as the largest colonia population with over 500,000 residents. The modern-day colonia population is about 96% Mexican-American, with about 74% of those — and 94% of colonia children — being American citizens.

A Texas colonia residence

Colonias originated in the 1950s. At this time, less than honorable developers bought up worthless land along the Mexican border — such as land that was agriculturally useless or located in flood plains — parceled it into tiny lots with little to no infrastructure and sold it off to low-income immigrants in search of affordable housing. To this day, colonias are often bought through a contract for deed, which is a questionable financing method by which developers offer low down and monthly payments with a very high interest rate and no title until the loan is paid in full. Prior to 1995, developers did not typically record the transactions with the county clerk, leaving the buyer with virtually no rights. If they fell behind on payments, the developer could repossess the property quickly, usually within just 45 days, without going through the foreclosure process.

colonias_lots_for_sale-300x201Fortunately, Texas passed the Colonias Fair Land Sales Act in 1995 to somewhat protect colonia residents who are forced to finance through a contract for deed. The Act requires developers to record the contract with the county clerk and to provide property owners with an annual statement that shows the amount paid towards the loan and taxes as well as the number of remaining payments. The Act also forces developers to itemize which services, such as water, wastewater, and electricity, are available, and whether the land is located in a flood plain.

While the Colonias Fair Land and Sales Act has improved contract for deed sales, there remain serious problems. Because property owners do not actually own the land or have a title, they cannot secure any type of financing that uses the property as collateral. Considering that colonia residents are typically well below the poverty level, any other types of financing are also unavailable to them, making it impossible to improve their property. Therefore, colonia residents typically construct their homes in drawn out phases as funds become available to them. Because of this, colonia homes often do not have electricity or even basic plumbing.

Challenges in Colonias

Arguably the most serious challenge facing colonias is the lack of improved water and sanitation services. Many colonias do not have public sewer systems and instead rely on rudimentary septic systems or outhouses that are often inadequate and overflow. And because the land is frequently in flood plains with poorly constructed roads that do not properly drain, sewage collects and pools, rife with bacteria and pathogens. Even colonias that do have sewer systems typically lack any type of wastewater treatment. Therefore, untreated wastewater is discharged into local streams that flow directly into the Rio Grande or the Gulf of Mexico.

Vending machine in Hidalgo, Image courtesy Wendy Jepson
Vending machine in Hidalgo, Image courtesy Wendy Jepson

Potable water also presents a challenge to colonia residents. Very often, inhabitants must buy water in drums to meet their needs, or, even worse, they utilize untreated water from wells that are contaminated. Some private companies have installed water “vending machines” that provide bottled water at an astronomical cost to residents who can ill afford it. Even colonias that do have water lines have major problems, because residents are unable to tie-in due to their homes not meeting county building codes; to meet the building codes, they need to have adequate plumbing — a true Catch-22 situation. In fact, housing in colonias is typically considered dilapidated by local inspectors. Residents often start with just tents, cardboard, and lean-tos, and make improvements little by little as funds allow.

Due to the lack of improved water and sanitation, as well as lack of electrical services, it should come as little surprise that health conditions in colonias are often deplorable. Hepatitis A, dysentery, tuberculosis, cholera, salmonella, and other diseases occur at an astronomically higher rate in colonias than they do in the rest of Texas, according to Texas Department of Health data. To make matters worse, most colonias do not have local medical services and have a serious shortage of primary care providers, and most colonia residents lack health insurance. Therefore, the average age of colonia residents is only 27 — a full 10 years younger than the national average. And, just as is the case in Africa and other developing areas, quality of health is directly linked to quality of education. Therefore, many colonia residents remain undereducated — 55% of residents do not have a high school diploma — causing the cycle of poverty to continue generationally. The unemployment rate in colonias is anywhere from 20-60%, compared with 7% for the rest of Texas.

Assistance to Colonias

Thankfully, through a series of public outreach initiatives, more attention has been brought to the existence of colonias and the third-world conditions in them. In the last 20 years, the Texas Secretary of State has been recording the infrastructure, or lack thereof, within colonias and providing a significant amount of funding — tens of millions of dollars — to improve these areas. And it is working, albeit slowly. Since 2006, about 100 colonias have been moved out of the “red” category, indicating the worst conditions. However, with over 2,200 colonias along the Texas-Mexico border, there is still much work to be done.

On a federal level, USDA Rural Development has grants available through the Individual Water and Wastewater Program for households residing in an area recognized as a colonia before October 1, 1989. The colonia must be located in a rural area and determined to be a colonia on the basis of objective criteria including lack of potable water supply, lack of adequate sewage systems, lack of decent, safe and sanitary housing, and inadequate roads and drainage. Grant funds may be used to connect service lines to a residence, pay utility hook-up fees, install plumbing and related fixtures like a bathroom sink, bathtub or shower, commode, kitchen sink, water heater, outside spigot, or bathroom, if lacking. Qualifying applicants must own and occupy their home, show income from all individuals residing in the home below the most recent poverty income guidelines, and not be delinquent on any Federal debt. The maximum individual grant for water systems is $3,500 and for wastewater is $4,000 with a lifetime assistance maximum not to exceed $5,000 per individual. Further information can be found on USDA’s web site. In addition, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico has set aside up to 10 percent of their State Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) funds for improving living conditions for colonias residents.

Leticia Jones has received several business loans from LiftFund and now the future of her catering business is bright. Image courtesy

Fortunately, colonia residents are a very resourceful, tight knit group who are willing to work together and help each other, and some private and non-profit institutions have also become involved in the plight of colonia residents. For example, Texas A&M worked with residents on a water filtration project which involved making simple filters to make water potable. In addition, a non-profit lender called the LiftFund has provided loans to some colonia residents to assist them with starting a business. These loans have a very low interest rate and are given to people who cannot qualify for a traditional loan. Colonia residents are very often entrepreneurial in spirit, perhaps through necessity. After all, for years they have done what they need to do to get by, whether it be selling handmade crafts at flea markets or cutting up tires dumped along colonia roads and turning them into unique flower pots.

In Conclusion

Colonias are a little known part of America that have conditions oftentimes no better than those found in developing countries. One of the biggest causes of generational poverty in colonias is attributed to lack of basic water and sanitation services, causing health and education issues. Just like the plight of the people living in Navajo Nation, it is shameful that people living in the richest land in the world do not have access to these basic human rights. Add to this the lack of charitable organizations supporting water poverty in the United States, and colonias qualify as one of the most significant, and heartbreaking, water crises in the nation.

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 3: Lead in Drinking Water

24234972202_550138a446_o-300x202Part three of our four-part series on water crises in America is on lead contamination. Instances of lead in drinking water, such as the situation in Flint, Michigan, have become a hot topic in the media. Lead in drinking water is a problem that reaches far beyond the disaster in Flint, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that roughly 10 million American homes and buildings still receive water from service lines that are at least partially lead. When water has high acidity or low mineral content, it can cause these service lines to corrode and leach lead into the water supply. Without mitigation, water from lead service lines has the potential to cause adverse health effects, particularly in children.

The EPA states that, in the last three years, only nine U.S. states are reporting safe levels of lead in their drinking water. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee. This means that 41 states are consistently reporting higher than acceptable levels of lead in their drinking water. The problem is not only the lead service lines connecting water mains to homes and buildings, but also the lack of proper treatment to prevent corrosion of these lead pipes.

History of Lead Pipes in the U.S.

Residents of Flint, Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.
Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.

The use of lead pipes for water distribution has a centuries-old history. In the U.S., installation of lead pipes on a major scale began in the late 1800s, particularly in the larger cities. At one point, more than 70% of cities with populations greater than 30,000 used lead water lines. Lead pipes had two significant advantages over iron: they lasted almost twice as long and they were malleable enough to easily bend around existing structures. Of course, now we see the health risks associated with lead, and water systems across the country have taken steps to eliminate lead pipes in their distribution systems. Water companies and municipalities now must decide whether to replace all the lead pipe in their drinking water system, including home service lines on private property, or continue to add corrosion-control chemicals at the plant to prevent leaching of lead into the water supply.

Utilities and the Government Take Action

Water companies and municipalities across the country are working diligently to get lead out of our drinking water. Since replacing all of our nation’s lead piping may take over 20 years, utilities have found a short term solution to control the amount of lead in their drinking water. They are focusing on the treatment process and monitoring what makes up the drinking water. Introducing orthophosphates to the water supply and flushing all the standing water creates a scale of protective coating on the interior surfaces of lead pipes, reducing corrosion. This limits the amount of lead that leaches into the water and offers a short term solution as we figure out how to permanently replace all lead pipes from our water distribution systems.

Orthophosphates added to treated drinking water has created a protective coating on the interior surface of this lead pipe.

In Wisconsin, the Madison Water Utility has become a national model for cities struggling with lead in their drinking water. They are the first major utility in the nation to demonstrate that a full replacement of both the public and the private portions of lead service lines is possible. This involved working with residents to remove lead service lines from their homes and nearby property. The project started in 2001 and has provided safe drinking water to 5,600 property owners. The plan, which was very controversial at the time, is now hailed as a model and has spurred other utilities into action. For example, Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) implemented a program that offers a credit of up to $2,000 and interest-free loans to assist homeowners who are willing to remove lead pipes on their property. BWSC also has a searchable online database for homeowners to see if their property has a lead service line.  Also, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) announced earlier this year that it will provide $100 million to its member water communities to fully replace lead service lines, including residential lines. These utilities are shining examples of the many organizations taking a long term approach to this national crisis.

Recent news reports of lead in drinking water and the controversy surrounding testing methodologies have acted as a catalyst for public schools across the country to test their water. Unfortunately, many of these tests indicate high, potentially dangerous, levels of lead concentrations in public drinking fountains, sparking outcry from parents and prompting a series of public meetings. In response, the EPA changed lead testing regulations on February 29, 2016 and now require utilities to use wide mouth bottles, conduct no pre-stagnation flush, and to run faucets at typical flow rates when testing for lead — precisely the opposite of how testing had previously been conducted. While many people have been quick to blame utilities for lead in their drinking water and have even gone so far to suggest that utilities have been practicing testing “cheats,” they were in actuality following protocol issued by EPA.

The EPA is also considering changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s rules regarding lead, and an advisory panel has proposed a more proactive approach to replacing lead pipes. The proposal would encourage public water systems to replace lead pipes versus waiting for lead levels to spike to take action. This plan involves substantial increases in funding to water companies and municipalities for the replacement of lead pipes in both the public and the private portions of lead service lines, including residential lines. With this additional funding, water utilities across the country will be able to set goals for a permanent solution to our nation’s lead crisis. Admittedly, we have a long road ahead of us as many cities simply do not know the exact number or location of lead pipes in their system. Add to that the cost and person power required to replace our nation’s lead service lines, and it becomes apparent that a 100% lead-free infrastructure is still many years away.

What Can You Do?

When water sits stagnant in lead service lines for even a few hours, it picks up lead from the pipe, which can make using your faucet hazardous. Find out if your home is serviced by lead service lines by calling your local water department. This is especially important to homes built prior to 1980. If your home still has lead service lines, you can reduce the risk of lead contamination in your drinking water by taking some simple steps:

  • Call your State Department of Public Health for health information, or visit their website.
  • Run tap water until after the water feels cold. Flushing pipes in this way before use assures that you are not drinking water that has been sitting stagnant in pipes.
  • Never use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking, especially when making baby formula or food for small children. Hot water from your faucet has a higher chance of containing traces of lead. Instead, use cold water and heat it on the stove or in the microwave.

In Conclusion


The good news is that lead contaminated water crises like the situation in Flint, Michigan have called for stricter regulations and replacement of nearly six million lead service lines nationwide. The not so good news is that we still have a long way to go to completely remove all lead in our water systems. Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes, and some major U.S. cities still have 100 percent lead piping that delivers water from the utilities to homes and businesses. Replacing lead service lines is the safest way to prevent lead contamination, and public and private water companies must work together with state and national organizations to replace lead pipes in all of our water distribution systems. Solving our lead contamination crisis will benefit everyone if we work together for a permanent solution. After all, everyone deserves safe drinking water.

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 2: Crumbling Infrastructure

cars driving through flooded road caused by burst water main

Continuing our July theme on water crises in the United States, this week’s article will dive into our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure — and how we can fix it. America’s infrastructure is in serious trouble, especially our water systems. Although the quality of drinking water in the U.S. remains high, our aging water infrastructure can no longer be ignored. Many of the pipes are over 100 years old and are exceeding their useful life. We experience about 240,000 water main breaks each year, or one every two minutes. These breaks result in 1.7 trillion gallons of clean water wasted annually. If not replaced, these water systems are expected to cost over a trillion dollars in repairs in the coming decades and, more importantly, put people’s health at risk.

The State of Our Infrastructure

Severely corroded pipe
Severely corroded pipe

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) develops a report card that depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure. Our water and wastewater infrastructure both received a D grade, which is a slight improvement from the 2009 report card which ranked both water and wastewater at a D-.  Despite the subtle improvement, our country has a long way to go to bring our water systems up to date and make them adequate for future demands.

We as citizens have become blind to our failing infrastructure by accepting preventable environmental hazards as the norm. Events such as polluted and toxic drinking water, floods from levee failures, lead contamination, and constant pipeline bursts have become all too common in our nation. It is apparent that there is a pressing need for modernization, reliability, and long-term funding. Despite these alarming scores and figures, we can improve the current condition of our nation’s infrastructure if we take the right steps.

What We Can Do Now

A section of pipe showing extreme clogging
A section of pipe showing extreme clogging

One of the best ways municipalities and water companies can improve and monitor their aging water systems is pipe testing. Testing the strength of pipes provides insight on how likely a system is to fail or leak. Pipe testing also helps to identify areas of a water system needing repairs, which can save millions of gallons of water as well as a lot of money.

Another way to assess a water system is with an annual water audit. Water audits help municipalities and water companies figure out how to address non-revenue water (NRW). NRW is water that is pumped into the system but not accounted for due to leaks, theft, customer metering inaccuracies, and other inaccurate accounting of water use. Effective water audits can reduce the need for facility upgrades and expansions, reduce the need to find additional sources, and help protect public health by reducing the number of entry points for disease‐causing pathogens.

Although pipe testing and water audits assist in monitoring and improving water systems, the real solution is long term replacement through government and legislative action. To do so, we need to accomplish three important goals:

  • Increase leadership in infrastructure renewal. We need bold and compelling vision at the national level if we plan on getting anything done. A way we can make this happen is to tell our legislators to take action.
  • Promote sustainability and ongoing maintenance. Our infrastructure must meet our present and future demands as challenges continue to arise. Our water system problems are not just a one time fix; we need plans in place to monitor and maintain our systems for growing future demand.
  • Develop, prioritize, and fund plans to maintain and enhance our infrastructure. Once funded, infrastructure projects must be prioritized in ways that improve people’s lives and support a thriving economy. Fixing our infrastructure is going to be expensive. We need to prioritize future improvements based on the benefits and demand of the improvements so we can best serve everyone across the country. Everyone deserves clean, safe drinking water.

What to Take Away

faucet-drip-isolated-255x300The truth is, there is too much at stake to keep ignoring our weakening infrastructure. If we do not do something soon, Americans may be in for some serious surprises. Imagine not being able to drink the water that comes out of our faucets or even take a shower without worrying about water borne diseases and bacteria.  If we wish to seriously improve our water infrastructure, we need collaboration from all parties, both public and private. Politicians and lawmakers need to take definitive action and commit to a sustainable and reliable plan to make our water systems safe and adequate for the future. We need to make the condition of our country’s water systems a top priority.

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 1: Navajo Nation

Great_Seal_of_the_Navajo_Nation.svg_-300x300Water poverty has long been considered a global crisis, with over 783 million people worldwide — that’s one in nine people — lacking access to a safe, clean water supply. Over half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people afflicted with water-related illness, and over 80% of illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa are directly attributable to poor water and sanitation conditions. There are a plethora of charities dedicated to solving the global water crisis, including Tata & Howard’s and AWWA’s charity of choice Water For People. However, there are also water crises taking place right here in the United States. For the month of July, we will be delving into water crises in the United States — and how we can work together to solve them.

Navajo Nation

Last fall, CBS Sunday Morning News ran a cover story titled The Water Lady: A Savior Among the Navajo. The piece showcased Darlene Arviso, a Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission employee who delivers water to the people of Navajo Nation. Prior to that, the American people were largely unaware of the water crisis afflicting a full 40% of the 173,000 residents of Navajo Nation.

Russell Begaye, President of Navajo Nation
Russell Begaye, President of Navajo Nation

Navajo Nation, though located within the borders of the United States, is a soverign nation with its own president, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the United States government. Therefore, it also does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates all 155,000 public water supplies of the United States and ensures that our drinking water is safe and clean. Water poverty affects all aspects of life, including not only health and longevity, but also livelihood and education. Unfortunately, the people of Navajo Nation are no exception.

Many of the residents of Navajo Nation must travel many miles to gather water, the most fortunate of whom typically travel by car. However, a large percentage of these residents live well below the poverty level and can ill afford the cost of gasoline required to travel to gather water. Others must walk several miles — no different from their sub-Saharan counterparts. To make matters worse, the water they gather is often from livestock troughs or unregulated wells, frequently fouled by bacteria and other contaminants.

EPA warning to residents of Navajo Nation
EPA warning to residents of Navajo Nation

Adding insult to injury, much of the water in Navajo Nation is contaminated with uranium and arsenic due to the prevalence of mining that took place in the area during the nuclear arms race. Uranium and radioactive particles have been found in much of the water supply in Navajo Nation, and the rest has been contaminated by coal mining and coal-fired power plants. At this point, basically all of the water of Navajo Nation is contaminated in some way, which has affected the health of the citizens there. Nearly half of the residents have been touched by kidney ailments or cancer. Since the Navajo people now understand that the water in their land is poisonous, they are forced to travel even farther to find safe water. Some of the residents save up their money for gasoline and make the four-hour trek to Flagstaff, Arizona to buy bottled water when it is on sale.

Solving the Navajo Nation Water Crisis

 "Baby Lisa" — photo courtesy of Navajo Water Project
“Baby Lisa” — photo courtesy of Navajo Water Project

Fortunately, the Navajo water crisis is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP, is the sole water charity dedicated to the Navajo water crisis in the United States, and has a mission in which Tata & Howard firmly believes. Working with the Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission and subsisting on private donations, Navajo Water Project digs wells, installs water storage tanks, and brings in-home plumbing to those suffering from water poverty in Navajo Nation. Most recently, the Navajo Water Project issued a plea for Baby Lisa, a Navajo child born with Microvillus Inclusion Disease. Her illness requires her to have a feeding tube, for which she needs clean water. Without clean water, she could become seriously ill or even die, so Baby Lisa was living in a medical facility over three hours from her family home. The Navajo Water Project petitioned individuals and businesses for $50,000 to bring clean water to Baby Lisa’s home, and this past spring, they surpassed their goal. The Project is now in the process of installing plumbing in the family home.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed an agreement in 2015 guaranteeing the water rights of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in Nevada and ensuring water supplies and facilities for their Duck Valley Reservation. Joining Secretary Jewell in a signing ceremony was Shoshone-Paiute Chairman Lindsey Manning. — photo courtesy of
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed an agreement in 2015 guaranteeing the water rights of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in Nevada and ensuring water supplies and facilities for their Duck Valley Reservation. Joining Secretary Jewell in a signing ceremony was Shoshone-Paiute Chairman Lindsey Manning. — photo courtesy of

In addition to the Navajo Water Project, the Navajo have entered into agreements with the United States government. Since 1978, native Americans have entered into deals with the U.S. Department of the Interior in which they procure funding for their nation’s water supply in exchange for relinquishing some of their water claims to the federal government, states, and private investors. Additional deals are currently underway, including one in Utah that passed in January of this year. The deal secured millions in funding to build water infrastructure such as distribution systems and treatment facilities on Navajo land. And while many Navajo see these deals as the only way to improve their quality of life and support economic growth, others worry that by relinquishing their water rights they are essentially stealing from future Navajo generations who, if climate change progresses as predicted, may find their water supply has run dry.

In Conclusion

maxresdefault-225x300The answer to solving the water crisis of Navajo Nation is not simple. Bringing safe, clean water to the people of Navajo Nation will require both public and private investment. It will also require fair legislation that allows the Navajo to keep rights to water on their land while requiring the federal government to fund the cleanup of the waters that they contaminated. The nation has been in an uproar over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in which hundreds of children suffered from lead poisoning from their water supply. However, we should also be outraged at the decades of water poverty and contamination that the people of Navajo Nation have endured. The time has come to address the water crisis in Navajo Nation and to ensure that ALL people living on U.S. soil are afforded the most basic human right to water.