This summer, Tata & Howard organized and sponsored a virtual 5K to raise funds for the Navajo Water Project. Runners were able to complete the race in their own time and space between July 1 and August 31, 2017, after which they received a custom-designed medal featuring a Navajo dragonfly, the symbol of water to the Navajo people. Over $1,000 was raised, all of which benefitted the Navajo Water Project in an effort to bring safe, clean drinking water to the thousands of residents of Navajo Nation who do not have running water or a toilet in their homes.
Some Tata & Howard runners decided to participate in the 5K together after work on August 16, while the Wormtown Milers — a central Massachusetts running team headed up by Marketing Communications Manager Heidi White —took to the streets of Worcester, MA to run the 5K together on August 26. Both live events were a lot of fun. In addition, virtual runners from as far away as Arizona participated in this philanthropic event.
Navajo Water Project Background:
Just like African women and children who leave their homes each day to fetch unimproved water that is miles away, thousands of Navajo also make a daily journey in search of water. For the few fortunate who own cars, they may drive to find water, although the gas expense is almost unbearable for many. For those without vehicles, they must walk miles to find water, sometimes getting the water from livestock troughs that are rife with bacteria and contaminants, other times getting water from unregulated wells and stock ponds.
Not only do the Navajo have to travel for miles to find water, but the water they do find is often contaminated. As a result of the heavy mining that took place in the area during the nuclear arms race following World War II, much of the water found in Navajo Nation is heavily contaminated with uranium or other radioactive particles.
Chris Halter, director of Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission, has done work in some of the poorest parts of Africa and Latin America. Working in Navajo Nation for the past eight years, he notes, “It’s a third world country in the middle of the wealthiest country in the world.”
Many Navajo can’t get enough clean water, creating a cycle of poverty that limits health, happiness, educational opportunity, and economic security. Of the 174,000 residents of Navajo Nation, 40% do not have running water. The goal of the Navajo Water Project is to bring safe, clean drinking water to every household in Navajo Nation.
The Holiday season means many different things for people. Whether it’s getting everyone the perfect gift, spending time with family, or preparing favorite foods for friends, the holidays are a time of giving. Our family here at Tata & Howard takes holiday giving to heart. We understand how important philanthropy is to both our local and global community. For this special time of year, we are looking at some of the most charitable and full-hearted organizations we’ve had the honor to support.
DARE Family Services
Since 1964, DARE Family Services has been committed to improving the lives of children who have been abused or neglected. By providing a family-based setting, they give children the opportunity to recover and live healthy, happy lives. Every holiday season, DARE Family Services reaches out to communities for gift donations to help kids experience a memorable holiday – in many cases, for the first time in their lives. At Tata & Howard, our employee-owners take DARE’s mission to heart and bring gifts to put under our DARE Giving Tree for children in need. Fortunately, we are one of many organizations and individuals who support DARE and their determination to better the lives of disadvantaged and neglected children. They help thousands of kids every year and we thank them for their generosity.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, along with the Jimmy Fund, is home to groundbreaking cancer discoveries. They are one of the greatest examples of a philanthropic organization working for a worthy cause – curing cancer. There are seemingly endless ways Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund raise money and resources to give hope to families affected by cancer, especially during the holidays. Tata & Howard is a proud supporter of Dana-Farber and donated $5,300 towards cancer research this past November, and donated another $1,500 this week in lieu of sending printed holiday cards to clients and friends. Some of our employee-owners are doing their own part to help them out as well. Our Marketing Communications Manager Heidi White participated in their “Run Any Race” program and raised over $3,000 by running Ragnar’s Reach the Beach in New Hampshire this past September. Also, T&H Engineer Molly Coughlin is currently training for the 2017 Boston Marathon to raise money for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund. Her personal goal is to raise $15,850 and we are all cheering her on. Go Molly!
Water For People
Over 1.8 billion people globally lack access to safe drinking water, and Water For People is looking to change that by committing to provide long-lasting water and sanitation infrastructure for communities in need. They operate in nine countries and have helped over four million people live better lives by providing access to clean water. To make this happen, Water For People works with communities, governments, and business owners to ensure reliable, safe water for future generations. In support of their passion for clean water, many employee-owners at Tata & Howard contribute to Water For People through automatic bi-weekly payroll deductions, which Tata & Howard matches dollar for dollar. In this way, we are able to do our part to realize Water For People’s mission of clean water for everyone, forever.
The Navajo Water Project
Speaking of clean water for everyone, the Navajo Water Project is an amazing organization that seeks to solve a little-known water problem. Of the nearly 200,000 Navajo population right here in America, 40% do not have running water – which has created a cycle of poverty that limits health, education, and economic security. As a subsidiary of DIGDEEP and primarily funded through private donors, the Navajo Water Project works with communities in Navajo Nation to install systems that bring running water and electricity into homes. The water is delivered via truck and safely stored in large cisterns, from which it is pumped into a sink and shower inside the home. The organization also installs solar energy systems to power the pumps and lights inside. With their determination and adequate funding, The Navajo Water Project expects to install home water systems in every Navajo home in need by 2018. Since we learned of the plight of the Navajo people in 2015, Tata & Howard has actively supported the Navajo Water Project. In 2017, which is our 25th anniversary year, we are organizing a national virtual 5K to raise money for this incredible organization. Participants will receive a beautiful medal and 100% of the cost of registration will go directly to the Navajo Water Project. Stay tuned for details of this exciting event!
The holiday season is the perfect time to give to others and to help the community, both locally and globally. Even the smallest gesture of generosity helps others in significant ways. And the best gift a person can receive is hope — and that is exactly what DARE Family Services, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Navajo Water Project, and Water for People are all about. We here at Tata & Howard encourage everyone to give to someone in need and celebrate generosity this holiday season. Happy Holidays to you and yours!
World Water Week in Stockholm is an annual event that focuses on global water issues. One of the key aspects of World Water Week is the coming together of industry experts in an effort to brainstorm and develop solutions to the world’s most pressing water-related issues.
World Water Week is organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), whose vision is a water wise world where the unique value of water is recognized and where water is shared and allocated sustainably, equitably, and efficiently to meet everyone’s basic needs. This year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth, and also marks the 20th jubilee of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. In 2015, over 3,300 individuals and close to 300 organizations from 130 countries participated in World Water Week.
Importance of Water for Sustainable Growth
As the global population continues to increase exponentially, it has become absolutely critical that natural resources be utilized sustainably — and water is arguably the world’s most precious resource. While water is a necessary part of every aspect of life, water availability will be of particular import in five key areas, expanded below.
Agriculture is not only critical to nourishing the global population, it is also far and away the most aggressive consumer of water. In fact, 70% of water withdrawals worldwide are for agriculture. Add to this the fact that by 2050 global agriculture will need to produce 60% more food in order to feed the burgeoning population, and it becomes clear that finding ways to farm sustainably is not only prudent, but necessary. The most sustainable form of agriculture comes in the form of rain fed crops. However, only about half of agriculture that has the potential to be rain fed is currently doing so. The rest is relying on irrigation and water withdrawals. Therefore, a key goal for the future is to convert these irrigated crops into ones that are watered naturally, with rainfall.
The second largest consumers of water are industry and energy, which combined account for 20% of the global water demand. Most of this demand is, of course, from developed countries, since underdeveloped countries typically are dominated by agriculture. Therefore, there exists a serious imbalance in industrial water usage and concern over the future as industrialization spreads as these underdeveloped nations expand. Therefore, water experts are working together to find ways in which all nations can benefit from industrialization while avoiding unsustainable impacts on water demand as well as other natural resources.
Domestic usage only accounts for 10% of total water demand, but its impacts are arguably the most important. Lack of improved water and sanitation is one of the largest contributors to poverty, illness, and lack of education worldwide. Even with the incredible strides made in the United Nation’s goal to provide improved water and sanitation to all people, an estimated 748 million people still lack access to an improved source of water and 2.5 billion still lack access to improved sanitation. One of the key goals of water for sustainable growth is finding ways in which to unequivocally ensure safe, clean water and hygienic, private sanitation to all inhabitants on the planet.
Adding to the challenge of water for sustainable growth for agriculture, industry, and domestic usage is the fact that climate change and an ever-increasing population have created a significant impact on our environment. Sustainable development has been a buzzword for decades, and yet most efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Rainforests have been stripped, aquifers practically drained, air quality degraded, and soils contaminated. No longer can sustainable development be a catch phrase or theory – the time has come for a proactive, targeted response to the global ecological crisis, including water supply and demand. Fortunately, savvy water and ecological experts from around the globe are currently working hard towards a sustainable future for generations to come.
Currently, over half of the global population resides in cities, and that number is expected to increase to over two-thirds of the nine billion global inhabitants by 2050. Most of this increase will happen in developed nations, which will tax infrastructure and likely increase areas of impoverished living conditions. Already in the United States are areas, such as Navajo Nation and the Texas Colonias, that are in many ways similar to those in underdeveloped nations in terms of infrastructure and resource availability. And, with the influx of urban residents, those areas of substandard living conditions are likely to increase – and not just in America. In fact, it is predicted that, without proactive planning, global urban populations will almost certainly experience a serious degradation in living conditions, including inadequate water and sanitation facilities. Therefore, the sustainable development of water resources for not only economic and industrial growth, but also for social equality and justice will be key to the sustainable development of urban areas.
Sustainable development of water resources is paramount for the future health and success of our planet. SIWI’s World Water Week is a way in which experts from around the world are able to meet, discuss, share ideas, and thoughtfully plan for a sustainable future. For more information on World Water Week, including updates, activities, and how you can participate, please visit www.worldwaterweek.org.
Water 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The 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.
During the holiday season, we typically hear about gifts on the 12 days of Christmas, eight days of Chanukkah, or seven days of Kwanza. And in the spirit of the season of gift-giving, many people choose this time of year to donate food to shelters or toys to needy children. We here at Tata & Howard love this time of year and the generosity that is so prevalent, but we are also committed to giving back to the local and global community throughout the year. So this holiday season, we have compiled the 12 Months of Giving — a list of 12 philanthropic events in which we have had the honor of participating in 2015.
Charity of Choice: Water For People
Most Tata & Howard employee-owners donate to Water For People with every paycheck through automatic payroll deductions, and the company matches 100% of donations made in this way.
Water For People Golf Tournament
Tata & Howard sponsored the American Water Works Association, Connecticut Section Golf Classic to benefit Water For People this past August. All funds raised by the event were donated to Water For People.
Rally for the Jimmy Fund
Employee-owners participated in the Rally for the Jimmy Fund in April. The Rally encourages people to wear Red Sox gear on Opening Day at Fenway Park in exchange for a donation to the Jimmy Fund, and has raised over $4 million for cancer research since its inception in 2006.
Special Olympics of Massachusetts (SOMA)
Some of our philanthropy is through the gift of time. Justine Carroll, P.E., has volunteered for SOMA for over 15 years as a swimming coach with the Belmont, Massachusetts swim team, and each year she has helped 30 to 40 athletes on her team participate in the Special Olympics Summer Games held every June at Harvard University. In addition to her full schedule as a Project Manager and Team Leader at Tata & Howard, her commitment as a coach involves training sessions twice a week in preparation for Special Olympics. Now that’s dedication!
Racing for the Jimmy Fund
Employee-owners supported co-workers Joel Loitherstein, P.E., LSP, and Heidi White as they participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) and Mass Dash for the Jimmy Fund, respectively. PMC is an annual 200-mile, 2-day bike-a-thon that crosses Massachusetts starting in Sturbridge and ending in Provincetown. Mass Dash is a grassroots, 100-mile relay in Massachusetts that starts at Mount Greylock and ends in Amherst. Both races raise funds for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with PMC raising over $500 million and Mass Dash raising over $500,000 since their inception.
Tata & Howard participated in National Flip Flop Day in June. The holiday was started nine years ago in an effort to raise funds to benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Employee-owners wore flip flops to work in exchange for a donation to Camp Sunshine, which was matched 100% by Tata & Howard’s Philanthropy Committee.
The Watershed Fund Annual Fundraiser
Tata & Howard sponsored the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) annual golf tournament to support The Watershed Fund in August. The Watershed Fund recognizes that land use choices are important decisions confronting many towns and individuals across the region, and strives to enhance the environment and improve quality of life by protecting drinking water supplies and threatened watershed lands.
In October, employee-owners participated in a month-long food drive to benefit local food banks. Among all offices, Tata & Howard donated over 400 pounds of food.
City of Marlborough
In December, employee-owners contributed to the Mayor’s Charity Relief Fund of Marlborough, Massachusetts, which helps residents of the city in need of financial assistance at times of crisis or hardship. Tata & Howard’s corporate office is located in Marlborough, and employee-owners were glad to be able to support the local community.
DARE Family Services
For the holiday season, employee-owners donated handpicked gifts to foster children in Massachusetts through DARE Family Services, a non-profit whose primary mission is to find, train, and support loving homes that will help children become resilient and overcome the trauma of serious abuse and neglect. DARE Family Services has six offices throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, including its administrative offices in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Navajo Nation Water Cistern Donation
Tata & Howard again supported the Navajo Water Project by purchasing a 1,200-gallon water cistern, which will provide the necessary water storage for a full running water system in one Navajo American Home. The gift was purchased in honor of Tata & Howard’s clients in lieu of holiday cards.
As 2015 comes to a close, we at Tata & Howard are thankful that we have been fortunate enough to have the ability to support a variety of charitable organizations throughout the year. In 2016, we look forward to participating in additional philanthropic activities both as a company and as individuals, and to continue to do our part to improve the environment — and world — in which we live. Happy Holidays!
Tata & Howard sponsored a water cistern through Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation. The 1,200-gallon cistern provides the necessary water storage for a full running water system in one Navajo American Home. The gift was purchased in honor of Tata & Howard’s clients in lieu of holiday cards.
“The western border of Navajo Nation is only 25 miles from Tata & Howard’s Flagstaff, Arizona office, so it really hit close to home when we learned of the Navajo Nation water crisis,” stated Shira S. McWaters, P.E., Manager of the firm’s Flagstaff office. “We as a company have historically supported and will continue to support Water For People, a charity that works to bring clean and sustainable water to developing nations, through automatic payroll deductions as well as corporate sponsorship of benefit events such as silent auctions and golf tournaments. However, in light of the water poverty facing those living right here on American soil, we decided to also focus our efforts on Navajo Nation this year.”
Tata & Howard and its employee-owners had made a previous donation of $2,235 to Navajo Water Project, which is the only water charity that serves people living in the United States, in September.
“The fact that there are people living right here in the United States who lack access to safe, clean drinking water is deplorable,” added Joel S. Loitherstein, P.E., LSP, Vice President of Tata & Howard. “We are proud to support Navajo Water Project in their efforts to bring a sustainable water supply to all who live in Navajo Nation, and are thrilled to do so in honor of our clients.”
In addition to the donation of the water cistern to Navajo Water Project, Tata & Howard employee-owners donated handpicked gifts to foster children in Massachusetts through DARE Family Services, a non-profit whose primary mission is to find, train, and support loving homes that will help children become resilient and overcome the trauma of serious abuse and neglect, and made monetary donations to the Mayor’s Charity Relief Fund of Marlborough, MA, which helps residents of the city in need of financial assistance at times of crisis or hardship. Tata & Howard’s corporate office is located in Marlborough.
Tata & Howard donates over $2,000 to Navajo Water Project
Charity provides clean, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation
Tata & Howard donated $2,235 to Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation. Employee-owners donated $1,235 and the company matched $1,000.
“When we learned of the extreme water poverty in which people right here within the borders of the United States live, we knew we had to act,” stated Donald J. Tata, P.E., President of Tata & Howard. “The company asked employee-owners to make donations to Navajo Water Project and agreed to match up to $1,000. We weren’t at all surprised when the good people here easily surpassed that number.”
“Having worked on several projects in Arizona, I have seen first-hand the difficult and, frankly, heartbreaking conditions in which some Navajo live,” added Jack E. O’Connell, P.E., LEED AP, Senior Vice President of Tata & Howard. “Bringing safe, clean, and accessible drinking water to Navajo Nation should be an urgent priority of the American people, and we here at Tata & Howard are more than happy to do our part.”
While there are dozens of water charities supporting developing countries, including Tata & Howard’s own charity of choice Water For People, Navajo Water Project is the only water charity that serves people living in the United States. For more information on the Navajo Nation water crisis, please click here.
About DIGDEEP Water
Launched in 2011 by international human rights lawyer George McGraw, DIGDEEP Water is changing the way people think about water. By designing water access projects that go hand-in-hand with its education and advocacy programs, DIGDEEP focuses on solving water poverty in marginalized communities at home and abroad while promoting better water consumption and conservation practices globally. DIGDEEP collaborates with local communities in order to find appropriate, sustainable solutions to water poverty in places like South Sudan, Cameroon, and the United States. Since each community is unique, each one of DIGDEEP’s projects is also unique. 100% of all donations support projects. To learn more, visit www.digdeepwater.org.
CBS Sunday Morning News recently ran a cover story titled The Water Lady: A savior among the Navajo about Darlene Arviso, a Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission employee that brings water to Navajo Nation. This story brought to light the fact that 40% of the 173,000 residents of Navajo Nation lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Along with many others in the water industry, we here at Tata & Howard were aghast and aggrieved. After all, we are all very familiar with the 100% improved water and sanitation statistic that America boasts. But if 40% of Navajo Nation lacks improved water, how can this be? We decided to delve a bit deeper into the situation, and what we found was downright shocking.
Water poverty in the United States
First and foremost, the statistic of 100% improved water and sanitation in America is accurate. Navajo Nation, though geographically located on American soil at the four corners of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, is not technically considered part of the United States of America. In the U.S., Indian reservations have what is called tribal sovereignty, or the inherent authority to govern themselves, and are actually independent nations. They may have their own police forces, elected officials, and courts, and the federal government recognizes these tribal nations as “domestic dependent nations.” This also means that they are not factored into the Clean Water Act or any other EPA ruling — and their numbers don’t count towards American statistics.
Water poverty in the U.S. is no different than water poverty in Africa. It affects absolutely every aspect of daily life, including physical and mental health, education, and economic viability. Just like African women and children who leave their homes each day to fetch unimproved water that is miles away, thousands of Navajo also make a daily journey in search of water. For the “fortunate” who own cars, they may drive to find water, although the gas expense is almost unbearable for many. For those without vehicles, they must walk miles — just like their African counterparts — to find water, sometimes getting the water from livestock troughs that are rife with bacteria and contaminants, other times getting water from unregulated wells and stock ponds.
But the major difference between the African water crisis and the Navajo water crisis is that the Navajo live on the land of the richest nation on the planet. Chris Halter, director of Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission, has done work in some of the poorest parts of Africa and Latin America. Working in Navajo Nation for the past eight years, he notes, “It’s a third world country in the middle of the wealthiest country in the world.”
Uranium in Navajo water
Not only do the Navajo have to travel for miles to find water, but the water they do find is often contaminated. As a result of the heavy mining that took place in the area during the nuclear arms race following World War II, much of the water found in Navajo Nation is heavily contaminated with uranium or other radioactive particles. After testing 240 unregulated sources on Navajo land, the EPA found that 10% of these sources had radioactive particles exceeding federal drinking water standards. It took decades for residents to learn the truly disastrous effects of this contamination, with family members suffering from kidney ailments and cancer. Prior to WWII, Navajo sheepherders and remote farmers procured water from communal wells close to their homes. But now, with poison snaking through their water supply and environmental officials instructing them to avoid drinking it, they travel hours for water.
The EPA, Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have dedicated $27 million to water system upgrades, including improving water quality for homes with existing running water, and adding piping to another 800 homes. However, it becomes prohibitively expensive to add piping to the more remote residences, so the EPA instead has paid for four tanker trucks to bring water to various meeting points once per week. Serving 3,000 homes, these trucks sometimes run dry before everyone has had a chance to receive their allotted water, and sometimes the road to reach the tanker is impassable. Some residents make the four-hour round trip drive to Flagstaff, Arizona to buy bottled water when it goes on sale for such emergencies, while still others do not have enough money for gasoline and have instead simply uncapped wells that have been deemed toxic. Nearly half of the remote residents have been visited by cancer, and tumors and kidney failure are routine ailments for the Navajo.
Gold King Mine spill contaminates Navajo Nation water supplies
The Gold King Mine spill, which released three million gallons of water contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals into the Animas River in Colorado on August 5, has caused even further water woes for Navajo Nation. While the contamination is inconvenient for residents of the three states whose water supplies were affected by the spill, the impact to Navajo Nation is disastrous. Navajo Nation residents rely heavily on the water of the now contaminated San Juan River, into which the Animas River flows, for irrigation and livestock. Responding to alerts that the water is now toxic, the Navajo Farming Authority shut off all irrigation and intake points along the river. In the midst of their short farming season, farmers and ranchers are worried about finding ways to irrigate their crops and water their livestock. Clean water storage is being depleted at an alarming rate and Navajo Nation — not the EPA or the U.S. government — has had to shoulder the expense of additional water trucking. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is frustrated by the lack of response from the EPA, who, while inspecting the Gold King Mine, actually caused the toxic spill, and he is pleading for answers.
“Bottled water is becoming scarce, and my people want to know what we can drink after the clean supply runs out,” Begaye said. “We’re hauling water from wells outside the disaster area and using our own Navajo Nation funds to run these trucks back and forth. We desperately need help from outside to get good quality, safe drinking water.”
Added Begaye, “We are in the middle of farming season, which is only four to five months of the whole year, and farmers are begging me to help them save their crops, many of which are not fully ripe yet. The revenue from these crops is what our farmers need to live off for the rest of the year, so without irrigation water, they are doomed.”
What we can do to help
There are countless water charities that have been created in order to provide improved water and sanitation to developing countries. The Gates Foundation, water.org, charity:water, our own charity of choice, Water For People, and countless others all strive towards this lofty goal. But who is helping those suffering from water poverty right here on American soil? Until a few years ago, the answer was nobody — but that has changed.
George McGraw is a human rights lawyer from Los Angeles and the founder of the non-profit DIGDEEP, which also provides water systems to developing countries. One day, McGraw received a phone call from a woman who wanted to make a contribution to DIGDEEP by sponsoring a well — but she had a stipulation. She told McGraw that she wanted her donation to be used in the United States. McGraw thought she was crazy, until she told him about Navajo Nation. And then he was just appalled.
“It really is an incredible injustice,” McGraw said. “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.”
So McGraw founded the Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that is dedicated to improving Navajo Nation’s water supply. With the Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission, they are raising funds to dig wells, buy water storage tanks, and install in-home plumbing for those suffering from water poverty in Navajo Nation. In addition, the Navajo Water Project sells Pendleton blankets, where for every purchased blanket, another blanket is donated to a Navajo family and $100 is donated to the Navajo Water Project.
And every little bit helps. Our nation’s claim of 100% improved water and sanitation will not be a reality until every single person living on American soil has access to safe, clean water. The time to make that claim a reality is now. Visit www.navajowaterproject.org for more information.
UPDATE: Tata & Howard employee-owners recently donated over $2,000 to the Navajo Water Project. Read the press release here.
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