Across the Navajo Nation, 170,000 or so residents are struggling with the worst ongoing drought in a century. Many are accustomed to using just a fraction of the water other Americans consume—as little as two to seven gallons a day compared to 80 to 100 gallons for the average U.S. citizen. They travel long distances to haul water for personal use and to feed livestock.
Thousands of Navajos have no clean running water at home, a crisis magnified by drought and government neglect. This is how families cope.
“Navajos have always rationed water use and intake due to scarcity,” said Reese Cuddy, a research associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health in Fort Defiance, Arizona.
Climate change has made life harder on the reservation, with little access to clean drinking water for the once predominantly pastoral people.
The U.S. government has not helped. On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the federal government was not obligated to help the Navajo meet their water needs. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote an impassioned dissent.
In 1922, water rights were established in the Colorado River Compact, dividing the river into two basins and allowing seven states to divvy up the valuable resource. The Navajo Nation—whose 27,000-square-mile reservation spans Utah, Arizona and New Mexico—was left out of the negotiations. The tribe’s rightful share of the water was left unresolved.