The Navajo Nation is facing such severe water shortages due to frozen waterlines, run-down water storage containers and weather-damaged water systems that President Ben Shelly has declared a state of emergency for the reservation.
He signed an emergency resolution on Friday January 25 after the Commission on Emergency Management passed it unanimously, according to a statement from the Navajo Nation.
“I am signing this resolution because we need to access emergency services to help our people who have been without water,” Shelly said in the Nation’s statement. “We have waterlines that need repair, water storage containers that need to be replenished, and we need manpower to help repair the water systems that have been damaged.”
Parts of the reservation have been subject for weeks to temperatures ranging from –25 degrees Fahrenheit to, at the best, temperatures in the teens. Main waterlines have frozen, as have those leading to homes and businesses, the Navajo Nation statement said. Pressure from water freed when the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) thawed the large pipes broke the smaller lines. At least 2,000 homes have been affected.
Pinedale, Crownpoint, Shiprock, Kayenta, Chinle, Dilkon, and others have all reported water outages or low water pressure, the statement said. But the problems haven’t ended there.
“Frozen and broken waterlines, however, have compounded into low water pressure issues for residents and communities that do have water,” the Navajo Nation’s statement explained. “Water storage tanks are low due to broken waterlines.”
“We have the same frozen/broken water situation with water lines in St. Michaels (near Window Rock), and it will be at least a week, I'm told,” ICTMN West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman said by e-mail on February 1. “I took a truckload of four-gallon jugs of water to my mom, and hay/grain to our sheep camp family that tends our herd. Some lambs froze, and snow is deep up there, resulting in muddy roads.”
Taliman has been hauling water to her elderly mother, three hours away, and helping feed the family’s 150-plus sheep, lambs and goats, she said.
Such temperatures are not typical, even for winter, according to the Western Regional Climate Center, a sister agency to the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). January temperatures in New Mexico typically range from the mid-50s to the middle 30s in higher northern elevations, with subzero temperatures rare except in the mountains.
The lowest ever official temperature ever recorded was –50 degrees Fahrenheit at Gavilan exactly 62 years ago today, on February 1, 1951, the NCDC said. On the Navajo Nation itself, the coldest temperatures found there are normally 11 degrees, the Nation said on its website.
In addition to giving emergency services departments the freedom to take whatever measures are necessary to get water running again, the Navajo Nation resolution also called on the community to help.
“We have always been a resourceful people. Now we need to all come together and conserve water while our water system is repair and our storages are replenished with water,” Shelly said. “We can do small things like turn off water while we brush our teeth, using towels more than once, or only washing clothing when needed.”
NTUA crews have been working 15 hours a day, 70 hours per week, for several weeks to tackle the water issues, and the resolution allows for more workers, Shelly said, adding that several agencies were coordinating efforts. An emergency operations center was scheduled to be opened this week; the Navajo Engineering and Constructing Authority (NECA) has been helping the NTUA repair waterlines, and Indian Health Services is also lending a hand.
“As we move forward, we are going to work with more agencies to get our people the help they need as we work to bring water back into their homes,” Shelly said. “We are a resourceful people, and we will endure through these times.”