Drought Intensifies the Navajo Nation's Ongoing Water Shortage (in Photos)

Although drought conditions are improving across most of the U.S., more than 40 percent of Navajo households still don't have running water at home.
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The United States celebrated a bleak victory this month: For the first time in 20 years, none of the lower 48 states are experiencing extreme drought conditions, according to June's U.S. Drought Monitor map. Many areas of the country have experienced record levels rain and snow this year; California is officially drought-free.

But in the Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, thousands of people are still struggling to get clean drinking water: More than 40 percent of Navajo households don't have running water at home, forcing residents to travel as far as 50 miles to stock up at water pumps every week, NASA's Western Water Applications Office reports. According to the non-profit Navajo Water Project, Navajo families are 67 times more likely than other Americans to go without running water or indoor plumbing, and they also pay more for the clean water they pump than they would for piped water.

The Nation's members face some of the last lingering drought levels in the Southwest, where aquifers and lakes have shriveled into cracked, dry fields. The crisis has intensified with climate change, creating moderate drought conditions, and leading the Navajo Nation's Commission on Emergency Management to issue an emergency drought declaration last year. Rising temperatures and dwindling resources have made it almost impossible to continue traditional farming practices that rely on rainfall, Public Radio International reports.

There could be some relief coming: Conditions have improved in the region since the Nation hit extreme drought levels last fall. In the meantime, human-rights non-profits have been working to deliver water and install water tanks for Navajo families in need. Below, scenes show some of this work in New Mexico.

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Cecil Joe, a member of the Navajo Nation, fills a water tank supplying one Navajo household on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico. Due to a legacy of poverty, marginalization, and disputed water rights, up to 40 percent of Navajo families don't have clean running water at home and are forced to rely on visits to water pumps.

Cecil Joe, a member of the Navajo Nation, fills a water tank supplying one Navajo household on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico. Due to a legacy of poverty, marginalization, and disputed water rights, up to 40 percent of Navajo families don't have clean running water at home and are forced to rely on visits to water pumps.

A man fills a water tank on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico.

A man fills a water tank on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico.

Nancy Bitsue, a member of the Navajo Nation, receives her monthly water delivery in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019. The water shortage in the Navajo Nation, the largest federally recognized sovereign tribe in the U.S., with a population of over 200,000, is so significant that generations of families have never experienced indoor plumbing.

Nancy Bitsue, a member of the Navajo Nation, receives her monthly water delivery in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019. The water shortage in the Navajo Nation, the largest federally recognized sovereign tribe in the U.S., with a population of over 200,000, is so significant that generations of families have never experienced indoor plumbing.

An elderly member of the Navajo Nation waits in his home for his monthly water delivery in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019.

An elderly member of the Navajo Nation waits in his home for his monthly water delivery in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019.

Cecil Joe fills another water tank on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico. The Navajo Water Project has been supplying water on Navajo lands in New Mexico since 2013.

Cecil Joe fills another water tank on June 5th, 2019, in Thoreau, New Mexico. The Navajo Water Project has been supplying water on Navajo lands in New Mexico since 2013.

A dog walks by homes in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019. Rising temperatures associated with global warming have worsened drought conditions on Navajo Nation lands over recent decades.

A dog walks by homes in the town of Thoreau on June 6th, 2019. Rising temperatures associated with global warming have worsened drought conditions on Navajo Nation lands over recent decades.

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