It’s water delivery day and Monica anxiously scans the Navajo Reservation horizon for the big white water truck.  When she sees the vehicle in the distance carefully maneuvering around deep ruts in the dirt road to her home she hustles her two small children safely inside.  Like many on the Navajo Nation, Monica has lived for years without running water or electricity.  Today will be life-changing for her young family.  

Members of the Rotary Club of Sedona take up positions to monitor the delivery.  The truck rolls up to the freshly installed underground cistern beside Monica’s tiny home.  A 1200 gallon tank is the heart of the home water system and for the first time will provide Monica and her children with clean, hot and cold running water.  The days of hauling hundreds of pounds of water from a regional well each week to provide for her family are behind her.

Monica’s water poverty is all too common on “the Rez”  as it is called by residents.  The US census shows that over 50,000 Americans in the Navajo Nation live without clean running water.  But with the help and leadership of the Rotary Club of Sedona the number of Navajo living in water poverty is finally being addressed.  The Club has financed the installation of nearly 58 in-home water systems for Navajo families in Dilkon, Arizona.

Studies have shown that the average Navajo Reservation family has access to just seven gallons of water per day.  Based on national water usage statistics that means that the water a typical American family uses in a single day has to last for two weeks for an average Navajo family.  Reservation families commonly survive by reusing the precious resource multiple times for less and less critical purposes - using water first to wash vegetables, then for bathing, and finally as water for cleaning.

But there is more to this very complex and tragic story.  In the 40s, 50s and 60s the United States government authorized uranium mining on the Navajo Nation for energy and defense purposes.  The government was able to license mining since the title to the Navajo Reservation belongs to the United States through the Department of Interior.  That gives the government broad authority over mineral deposits on lands reserved for native Americans.  When the uranium mines were opened the Navajo were grateful for jobs given the decades long dilemma of near 50% unemployment.  Unfortunately the danger of exposure to uranium was not totally understood at the time.  As a result Navajo miners were exposed to the risk of cancer from uranium radiation.  Today, per the EPA, there remains more than 500 abandoned mines and uranium waste sites on the Navajo Reservation. 

The mining methods and waste sites allowed the uranium to leach into the aquifer.  After extensive testing the Environmental Protection Agency advised the Navajo to avoid using water for any purpose from shallow wells which exhibited elevated levels of uranium and arsenic.  That restriction has meant that thousands of Navajo have to travel to distant regional wells that have been drilled into deep unpolluted aquifers.  Of course those wells are expensive, few and far between.  Retrieving water from regional wells can mean traveling as much as 20 miles one way across the Rez in aging vehicles to fill cans, buckets and barrels with water for the family.   To provide even the meager seven gallons of water per day of the average Navajo family means hauling over 400 pounds of water to the home each week.

All too often Navajo livestock are still consuming water from the conveniently located, but uranium-polluted shallow wells.  It is easy to understand why.  While hauling 400 pounds of water a week for the family is necessary, it can be overwhelming to retrieve even more water for their animals to consume.  Of course milk and meat from that same livestock are part of the Navajo diet. 

The Rotary Club of Sedona became aware of this tragedy nearly five years ago and participated in house-by-house projects to give Navajo Reservation families access to clean running water in their homes.  In 2019 the club initiated its own fundraising campaign to finance the work of DigDeep, a California based nonprofit that has been focused on Navajo water poverty for the better part of a decade.  

The fundraising effort was headed by David Simmer, a member of the Rotary Club of Sedona.  “Since 2018 Rotary has been working to raise awareness of this tragedy in our own backyard.  Universal access to clean water is one of Rotary’s areas of focus around the world.  As word spread we were able to draw funding from over a hundred Rotary clubs and districts in half a dozen countries around the world.  In the end we raised over a quarter million dollars - enough to install clean, hot and cold running water systems in nearly 60 rural homes in the Dilkon Chapter of the Navajo Nation.  Applicants for the systems have been prioritized by the severity of the need.  Elderly, families with small children, veterans and the disabled are moved to the front of the line.”

The Dilkon Chapter, where the Rotary Club of Sedona’s efforts are focused, is a desolate, albeit beautiful area on the Reservation northeast of Winslow.  Simmer describes its location this way, “If you’re standin’ on the corner of Winslow Arizona, you’re 45 minutes away from water poverty in the richest country on the planet.”

The village of Dilkon is a community of about 400 with a Bashas Grocery, a couple gas stations, a single four-way stop and a gleaming new medical center.  Roughly 1000 more residents of Dilkon Chapter live in homes in the surrounding desert as is their custom and culture.  Those rural homes are the focus of the Rotary Club of Sedona’s work.

Recently a team of Rotarians from Sedona and Fountain Hills travelled to Dilkon to observe the installation of a cistern system at Monica’s home.  Simmer was joined by Rotary Club of Sedona President, Dr. Jean Barton and long-term Sedona Rotarians Gary Karademos and Dick Weisbaum.  

Dr. Barton offered her perspective on the trip, “We were warmly welcomed by the Dig Deep engineering team comprised of all-Native American engineers.  Given the terrible history with Covid on the Navajo Nation we all wore masks.  Several of the DigDeep team had lost family members to Covid. Their stories were heartbreaking. It seems pretty clear that the lack of clean water exacerbated the spread of Covid.  One of the engineers was even on the wait list for water installation in his own home.”

The running water systems being installed include the 1200 gallon cistern (buried to protect its contents from the hot summer sun and from winter frost), a pump, solar panel and battery for power, simple propane fueled hot water heater and a sink with faucets.  For many recipients of these hot and cold running water systems it is an emotional experience.  Simmer reflected on a prior visit to the Navajo Nation.  “I met an elderly Navajo woman that I suspect was two decades younger than she looked.  Through a translator she told me that she had lived the last four decades without running water in her home.  When she finally turned on the faucet for the first time she dropped her head in her hands and cried tears of joy.  You just never forget changing lives like that.”

Rotary Club of Sedona is an affiliate of Rotary International, and works locally and globally to support education, provide clean water, promote peace, fight disease, and make their communities a better place through various service activities. The club does this from a foundation of integrity through its membership of business, professional, and community leaders. Visitors to the club are always welcome. To learn more about membership go to