Monday, August 17, 2015

Water for the Navajo Nation

At the little square home in Tennessee where I grew up, our water was pumped to our house from a little, mineral-rich spring that ran at the bottom of the yard beneath some spindly trees and overgrown grass.

The pump required electricity, so if we were unable to pay the electricity bill or a storm came and knocked out power or flooded the pump, we were without running water in our home for days or, on rare occasions, for weeks. At such times we hauled water in five gallon buckets from the lovely creek that ran beneath a culvert halfway down our lane. This water was used to wash clothes and flush toilets. A little way up that creek, on a different path, a more pristine spring gurgled straight out of a ridge, cold and pure-tasting. We used rinsed milk jugs to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing dishes from this precious water source.

Though we didn't mind the topped-off milk jugs, we kids used to hate hauling the five gallon buckets of creek water back up the lane to the house, balancing it between two of us as we shared the handle that bit into our palms as we stumbled along. It was such a chore, especially in the heat and humidity of summer.

Often, instead of hauling water for bathing, we simply bathed in the creek on hot days, taking our soap into the water, not thinking about the microbes we were lathering into our hair and scrubbing onto our skin. It was like swimming....with a purpose...and a more beautiful bathing area could not have been desired.

Looking back now, our family was very lucky to have such a beautiful, sustaining creek just a few minutes walk down the lane from our home.

I thought about this childhood experience yesterday as I watched CBS Sunday Morning, an indispensable Sunday tradition I inherited from my dad. The feature story was about how many people of the Navajo Nation have never in all their lives had running water in their homes. Their water is delivered by a Navajo woman named Darlene Arviso who drives dozens of miles each day in a huge tanker to pour precious water into the plastic storage barrels of homes. 

In the story it points out that most of us use around 100 gallons each day, but individuals of the Navajo Nation get by on a fraction of that - sometimes a mere 7 gallons.

Truly, it's a travesty and an embarrassment that we here in the Phoenix desert flood our grass yards with water, maintain our pristine pools with hundreds of gallons annually and take long, relaxing showers with water sources that were allocated for our needs long ago when the Native American tribes had no say in the rights to water that their people had been using and respecting long before we discovered them. It's astounding that there are people in our own country who would not even have access to drinking water if it weren't for the efforts of a few, dedicated individuals. Even so these people struggle to eek every last drop from their delivered water as long as they can, and what must they give up to do that? Clean clothes? Baths? Refreshing sips throughout a hot, dusty day?

I am a big believer in solidarity, meaning that if we know there are people who go without basic nutritious food daily, we should make an effort to remember them when we crave ice cream and feel like running to the store for such a trivial desire. We should remember them when we want to stuff our faces although we're not really hungry. In just such a way, I believe in remembering the Navajo Nation and so many other tribes and communities on this planet who struggle to have clean sources of water every day, and in thinking of them I choose not to grow a grass yard in the desert summer; I choose not to run the water in the shower as I'm lathering my hair and body with soap; I choose not to just dump "extra" unused water down the drain when I could use it for my plants

Being a citizen of this world means remembering our fellow citizens. I try - though I often fail - to continue to grow in solidarity with others who do not have access to what my family has, and remembering what my family has, I thank God that I have it and try to NEVER take it for granted.

But there is more that we can do, you and I, than merely reflect on the hardships of others. George McGraw, as it mentioned in the CBS story, runs a nonprofit called DigDeep which is endeavoring to dig a very deep well for the people of the Navajo Nation. In contributing to the Navajo Water Project, we can and will support the dignity and right to life of our American neighbors.


  1. as Christians, if we just pray and NOT do anything....

    1. I do understand that sometimes we can't financially contribute, and prayer is very powerful.

  2. Wow. This just grabbed me, Hillary. Thank you for sharing this interesting story and raising my awareness- inspiring me to truly appreciate the water and the resources I have in my life. I am a nut about wasting things, including water- but I can do better. I can always do better.

    My mom watched the CBS Sunday Morning show and I was HOOKED for years too... I need to get that one back on my DVR list. I forgot how much I loved those stories they share!!

    1. Oh, I love CBS Sunday Morning. Just a great show with GOOD NEWS stories. They have a rare talent for making me cry or making me feel better about humanity.

      I also wasn't as aware of this issue as I should have been. Now that I know about Dig Deep, I hope to keep them and their efforts on my radar.

      As for conserving water, being here in the desert we think about it often but not nearly as often as we should. Our man-made reservoirs are shrinking, and all the states out here are guzzling from the Colorado River while some Native American tribes struggle just to have enough water for their needs.

  3. By the way- LOVED your childhood stories. It actually sounds Heavenly to live near the creek, despite trudging back and forth with the milk jugs of water!!

    1. I adored that creek, and I am grateful for the life and memories it gave to our family. We had so many good times by its banks and in its refreshing, bubbling water. I miss it.


I love your comments!