Sep 30, 2020

Universities to Treat Water Issues in Navajo Communities

Universities to treat water in Navajo communities

navajo nation

Navajo Technical University and New Mexico Tech are teaming up to address water issues in rural Navajo areas.

The teams are starting a pilot project to build and operate filtration units for well sites across the reservation, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

The technology itself was invented by New Mexico Tech researcher Jianjia Yu.

According to Robert Balch, director of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center at New Mexico Tech and a project lead, the units can treat even the dirtiest water. 

“So many residents on reservations have to drive sometimes 100 miles to get water, and bring it back to the house in bottles,” said Balch. "Well water is available to a lot of tribes, but is not always in great shape.”

According to the U.S. Water Alliance, it is estimated that 30% of Navajo residents do not have running water.

The universities signed a memorandum of understanding in Crownpoint to launch the project. 

Dirty water will be treated with bundles of hollow fiber membrane with a coating to help filter contaminants. The units can filter out salt, phosphates, nitrates and heavy metals, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Water at windmills, tanks and wells will be treated for agricultural use. If the unit receives state approval the technology could treat drinking water supplies.

According to Abhishek RoyChowdhury, assistant professor of environmental science and natural resources at Navajo Technical University, the team will work with Navajo agencies to identify areas that have the worst water quality or severe water accessibility issues.

“Our students will learn the science and be trained in the technology, but will also learn practical ways to get involved with the community to solve environmental science problems,” said RoyChowdhury.

As part of the project, Navajo communities will learn basic upkeep methods for the systems. The NTU team will then translate scientific terms and water data into the Diné language, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

“These students know the value of water,” RoyChowdhury said. “If we can get a water filtration system to the most remote part of the reservation so people just have to drive a mile instead of 100 miles, that is a huge benefit.”

Students will begin sampling sites later this year.

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