NAVAJO COUNTY, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation has been one of the hardest-hit areas by the COVID-19 pandemic. A major, complicating factor has been the lack of running water in tribal members' homes.
Of the roughly 173,000 people living on the Navajo Nation, at least 30% of the homes don't have running water. This means that one of the simplest ways to avoid contracting the coronavirus, washing your hands, is almost impossible for many on the Nation.
Now, Bloomberg Law is reporting that the largest coal-producing mine in the nation drained Navajo Aquifer in August 2019 before it's last mining operation. This has left many residents in the area without access to water.
And while many factors have contributed to the rampant spread of COVID-19 on the Nation, and the lack of access to running water in general, being unable to access clean water has certainly contributed.
A Navajo Nation resident, Percy Deal, told Bloomberg Law, "I use the same water five or six times a day before I throw it out. It's very dirty, but otherwise, I would run out of water in less than a week. And I can't afford that."
According to Bloomberg Law, many tribal members say that Peabody Energy Corp. pulled so much water from the Navajo Aquifer that many wells and springs have gone dry.
“It’s not just me, it’s hundreds of my neighbors,” Deal told Bloomberg Law. “Peabody drained the aquifer for 45 years, so we all don’t have any water.”
Additionally, Peabody has yet to begin cleanup and restoration of the mine, located in Kayenta. Pam Eaton, a consultant with Green West Strategies, told Bloomberg Law that the cleanup and restoration is required by law.
In the long-term, The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, which passed with the support of Utah Senator Mitt Romney, could bring new lines with running water to about 300 homes on the Nation.
Meanwhile, the Navajo Department of Health reported 75 new COVID-19 positive cases for the Navajo Nation and three more deaths as June 18.
The total number of COVID-19 positive cases for the Navajo Nation is 6,747 and the total number of deaths reached 322 as of Wednesday.