The $5 Billion Problem: Tap Water Travesty On Navajo Nation

by Sara Jerome, originally posted on December 16, 2015


One percent of Americans are living without running water.

VICE News recently examined this problem, focusing on the Navajo Nation, where a lack of infrastructure and decades of uranium mining have made clean tap water unavailable to many. About 40 percent of residents on the Navajo Nation lack access to tap water, the report said.

The Navajo Nation has a 70 percent unemployment rate in part because the lack of running water makes it difficult for businesses to operate, the report said.

“Many people leave [the reservation] to survive,” the report said.

Residents without access haul water from watering points served by the Navajo Tribal Utilities Authority (NTUA) or from “unregulated sources, such as livestock wells and springs. The number of unregulated water sources is estimated to be in the low thousands,” according to the U.S. EPA.

NTUA is tasked with fixing the tap-water problem. According to the utility, it services the 27,000 square-mile Navajo Nation, including 36,600 water and 13,600 wastewater customers. The cost to solve the tap-water problem is $5 billion at minimum, according to Rex Kontz, the deputy general manager at NTUA.

“There aren’t a lot of places to pull money from. The normal avenues that cities take, like raising rates, which generates all this money, we don’t have those options,” he said.

He estimated that it could be 50 years before tap water access is universal on the Navajo Nation. “Some people are going to be dead before they get it,” he said.

Uranium mining during the Cold War played a major role in contaminating reservation water sources. Many of the companies responsible for mining no longer exist. Eight companies that remain active, including Chevron and General Electric, are investigating and cleaning up the mines they are responsible for, the report said.

“There are still 400 sites that remain unaccounted for,” the report said.

Around 1.7 million Americans lack access to running water in their homes and many of them live on reservations, the report said.

For more stories about the systems that get drinking water to consumers, visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.

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