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Study: Water Gap Found at Navajo Nation, Other U.S. Regions

A recent report finds that 2 millions Americans do not have access to running water and basic indoor plumbing. (ChepkoDanit/AdobeStock)
A recent report finds that 2 millions Americans do not have access to running water and basic indoor plumbing. (ChepkoDanit/AdobeStock)


December 2, 2019

APACHE COUNTY, Ariz. – A report finds that several regions across the United States, including the Navajo Nation, lack access to clean water in many of their homes.

The study finds six areas that face a water crisis where running water or basic indoor plumbing is not available.

The study, Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States, says while the Navajo tribe owns water rights, a lack of funding keeps many of their citizens without basic services, where about 30% of the more than 330,000 residents on the reservation must drive for up to four hours to haul barrels of water to their homes.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at the Morrison Institute of Arizona State University, says a lack of resources along with inaction by the federal government keeps many Navajo from access to clean water.

"Typically, a tribe wants, in addition to a water right, funding for infrastructure so that they can actually benefit from that water,” Porter explains. “It doesn't do any good to have a giant water right if you don't have the things you need to take advantage of the water."

The study was produced by DigDeep, a water access advocacy group, and the U.S. Water Alliance, a policy research organization.

In addition to the Navajo Nation, the report also profiles other areas lacking access to water, including parts of Appalachia, central California, rural Alabama, Puerto Rico and the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.

The Indian Health Service estimates that it would cost $200 million to provide basic water and sanitation access to all Navajo homes.

Porter adds that local politics often come into play, when residents are afraid of what they might lose if their leaders try to trade part of their water rights in exchange for infrastructure.

"People, as time passes, become dependent on the water supplies,” she points out. “This is not only the case with the Navajo Nation. It's the case with water supplies all around the state. It becomes a lot harder to reach a settlement when you have greater and greater reliance on the same supplies of water."

The report points out that access to clean water and reliable sanitation currently is out of reach for 2 million Americans.

It shows that race is the strongest predictor of water access, that poverty is a key obstacle to water access and that the government does not keep accurate data on gaps in the U.S.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ