Infrastructure throughout most Native American reservations is poor. That affects delivery of critical resources to residents, the most dire of which is often water. In the nearby Navajo reservation, tens of thousands of people are without running water. One local nonprofit is dedicated to reducing that number. You’re watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Three Rivers Brewing and The Big Idea makerspace at San Juan College. I’m Connor Shreve. Cortez-based nonprofit Fundamental Needs is in its third year providing functional water systems to those on the reservation who aren’t on the grid. It started in 2020 when co-founder Justice Ramos started hearing from family connections on the reservation just how bad COVID was getting.
We were hauling firewood and food boxes and water and PPE and everything, but we always wanted to work towards some sort of long-term solution, so we developed some off-grid water systems, and basically they’re just solar powered sinks. They have hot water, a three-stage water filter, everything you need, and it’s solar powered.
The organization provides recipients with a 550-gallon tank and works on water deliveries with the Water Warriors. That’s an offshoot of another local nonprofit, Collective Medicine. Ramos discovered pretty quickly, providing clean water was how the group could have the biggest impact.
We didn’t want to go in like a lot of nonprofits do and be like, here’s the solution. We wanted to go in, ask the questions, and the two main issues on the Navajo reservation is water and electricity. There’s about, more than 1/3 of the population out on the Navajo reservation don’t have running water, and then it’s like 15,000 homes out there don’t have electricity.
After starting with a handful of projects in Rock Point, Arizona, Ramos says Fundamental Needs is finding its footing in 2023. It’s planning a project in Cortez, and expanding into the Farmington and Shiprock areas, with over 50 individual water systems in the works. Alice Benally was the first person in New Mexico to get one of those systems. Benally cares for her 98-year-old mother, and during the day, babysits her granddaughter. She says the system provides relief.
I really like the sink and it’s really good because there’s hot water and then I still have my mom and I get to clean her with the water and everything. Like I don’t have to heat up the water. I don’t have to bring in the water no more.
On the Navajo reservation, access to running water can depend on getting a home site lease, an often complex, bureaucratic, and expensive process. That’s why more than 1/3 of people on our nation’s largest reservation are left without access to drinking water. For many like Benally, getting drinking water required trips to nearby Kirtland where she could fill her three-gallon containers and haul them home. The comparative simplicity of her new system might be why she’s getting feedback from members of her community interested in getting their own.
So there’s like three or four clients that came to look at the tank. I explained that they furnished the tank, the propane, the sink, everything, and then the solar up there.
Fundamental Needs left Benally with a tomato plant and a small garden space, which she sustains with greywater from the system. It also trains and hires local high school students to build and install the systems. That maybe exemplifies the organization’s individual approach to community building. While many of the water conversations and potential solutions for Indian country are stalled in legislative or legal chambers, Fundamental Needs is committing to chipping away at the issue from the ground up. Learn more about this story and others at FarmingtonLocal.news. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I’m Connor Shreve.