Poverty and Public Health
5:45 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

Navajo Nation Declares Drought Emergency

Plants and dunes on the Navajo Nation.
Plants and dunes on the Navajo Nation.
Credit Margaret Hiza-Redsteer, USGS Flagstaff, AZ / USGS

Navajo President Ben Shelley has declared a state of emergency for drought conditions on the Navajo Nation. Officials are concerned ongoing drought may be creating unsafe conditions for people who need drinkable water.

More than 40 percent of homes on the Navajo Nation don't have access to water infrastructure, and small lakes and ponds used for livestock on the reservation are losing water or drying up completely.

Erny Zah is a spokesman for the Navajo Nation. He says with drought taking it's toll and no access to running water, some people may turn to drinking water from shallow wells meant for livestock.

“Because they are shallow, they're not drilled as deep as what we would use for drinking water,” says Zah. “So since they're shallow, what happens is that the top soil sometimes leaks into these wells, so we could have arsenic, we could have uranium - trace amounts that are okay for livestock, but for human consumption they could definitely do some damage.”

Zah says the declaration allows the Navajo Nation to apply to FEMA for emergency funds, and to appeal to the White House for a federal disaster designation.