December 4, 2023
Access to clean water and sanitation impacts every facet of life, from health to education to economic outcomes. Over two million people in the U.S. do not have running water, and many more lack access to safe drinking water. Vulnerable populations, including low-income and communities of color, are most impacted.
The Navajo Nation is one of the hardest-hit pockets of water poverty in the country. According to DigDeep, more than 30% of homes are without running water or basic plumbing, forcing households to pay exorbitant prices – 72 times the cost of piped water – while making critical choices around water use, like showers vs. washing dishes. Some residents are forced to rely on contaminated water sources or drive long distances every few days to haul and stockpile water, made difficult for at-risk residents, like children or elders or in crises like inclement weather and the COVID-19 pandemic.
DigDeep’s Navajo Water Project is an innovative Indigenous-led field team working to get clean water to homes without access to piped water or sewer lines. “We’ve installed clean, running water into over 550 homes across the Navajo Nation through our off-grid Home Water Systems,” says Cindy Howe, Director of the Navajo Water Project. “But the impact of what we’re building is much greater.”
“The Navajo Nation was one of the hardest hit regions by the pandemic, in part due to lack of running water. Protection measures were to hunker down at home and frequently wash your hands, which is impossible if you have to leave to haul water,” said Howe. “During that time, we quickly halted in-home installations to protect our staff and clients. We pivoted to emergency aid, redesigned our Home Water Systems to allow for contactless delivery, and deployed hundreds of smaller water storage tanks to households across the community. Now we have resumed normal operations, but the need for long-term solutions to increase water access on the Navajo Nation remains a critical need.”
The community-managed approach empowers Indigenous leaders like Cindy Howe, and creates meaningful employment opportunities with benefits, including employer-paid health coverage, a sanitation and septic installation program and the Navajo Nation’s first-ever plumbing certification training program. “We hire locally from the communities we serve, and all the staff, nearly 40 people, on my team are Navajo,” said Howe. “Every day, we work together to bring water to our neighbors and community members. It’s relentless work, but it’s incredibly meaningful. Tó éí ííńá át’é. In the Navajo language, that means water is life.”
The Caterpillar Foundation has partnered with DigDeep since 2022 in a shared commitment to help solve local challenges and create an equitable future where everyone can access clean running water.