Valerie Taliman
Snow-covered road to sheep camp on the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly Seeks $2.8 Million in Water-Damage Funding

February 05, 2013

Overwhelmed with damage to water systems in brutally freezing temperatures, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly is asking for volunteers to help with repairs and is seeking up to $2.8 million in funding from various government agencies, the Navajo Nation announced on February 4.

“We need to continue funding Operation Winter Freeze,” Shelly said in a statement, referring to the recovery project’s moniker. “People with health risks don’t have running water, some communities have low water pressure that are putting health centers and hospitals at risk of closure. We are facing an emergency that is putting lives at risk.”

He plans to ask the Department of the Interior for assistance, as well as work with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the statement said. The effort of fixing and preventing more damage would cost $2.8 million, the Nation said in its press release.

It’s the latest move in a fruitless two-month-long battle to stave off domino-ing water-pipe damage across sections of the Navajo Nation reservation, which straddles 27,000 square miles of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. As the larger lines get fixed, the smaller ones burst from the resulting water pressure. More than 2,000 homes had been affected as of late January.

On January 25 Shelly declared a state of emergency as frozen water lines across the Nation continued to break, exacerbating water issues for 10,000 people or more. New funding would pay for 15 more crews for 15 weeks, as well as operational costs of the Emergency Operations Center, the Navajo release said. The Nation has also appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) under the newly revamped Stafford Act that allows federally recognized tribes to ask the U.S. government directly for emergency and disaster assistance. 

“Fort Defiance and Chinle were two communities where water pressure was an issue. We continue to monitor these two communities, but we are also observant of other communities with hospitals,” said Rose Whitehair, Navajo Nation Emergency Management director, in the statement. “We have 10,000 people without water, and we need all the help we can get right now.”