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Navajo-Hopi Observer- News
‘To’ bee iina’’ Water is life

By John Bianchini
Special to the Observer
When is comes to dealing with environmental problems on the Navajo Reservation, one person alone cannot fix ithem. Such a task requires concern and effort from the whole community.

Fred Johnson of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA) is willing to speak to anyone who will listen about ways people on the reservation can take care of their water. On July 11, he spoke with students from the reservation attending the Summer Scholars Environmental Outreach Program (EEOP) at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.
“Three years ago, the Navajo Nation passed its own Clean Water Act and water quality standards,” Johnson said, making it a punishable offense to dump oil, trash or do anything that may affect water sources on the reservation.

Trash dumping

Anyone who has been out to the reservation has probably come across the unsightly scene of old cars, refrigerators, washers, batteries, diapers and beer bottles littered in a wash. When rain comes, water flows through the trash and will contaminate water sources for people and animals. Burning trash in a wash is even worse because it turns garbage into smaller particles that are more easily distributed through the air, water and soil.

One gallon of oil will contaminate one million gallons of water, Johnson said. For those who have oil or other car fluids for disposal, he pointed out that Wal-Mart sells containers that can be can filled with disposal liquids. Full containers can be taken to Auto Zone or Pep Boys in cities like Gallup, Farmington or Flagstaff for proper disposal then returned for people to reuse.

“For some Navajos it’s like tradition to take our trash to the wash, Johnson said. “It is up to each individual on the reservation to control this really bad habit and we need to break it.”
According to Johnson, the NNEPA has at times spent more than $150,000 to clean up some dumpsites in washes on reservation; money, he said that could be better spent on other things.
The enforcement of laws can be a problem on the reservation, and it takes a community effort of everyone to work through these problems, he said.
“We have to start educating our people about these laws and why they are in place,”Johnson said.

Poorly managed lands

There were two pictures in Johnson’s slide presentation showing a before and after photos of a stream and meadow. The meadow in the first picture was victim to overgrazing, trampled and eaten by too many cattle with few trees and a dead grass.
Johnson said that people with livestock should know that having more vegetation on the land would increase the amount of water absorption into the ground. To solve this problem of overgrazing, he suggests ranchers rotate their livestock over time through various plots on the land.

The second picture showed the once dying land restored to beauty with many trees, tall grass and plants along the stream. The owner of the land in the pictures stopped the inefficient way of ranching and tried the method of rotation; whereby, it only took four years to restore the land.

Johnson suggests people replant native species and grasses onto their land to bring it back because it will absorb more water for the land. Good trees he said to have are cottonwood, alder and Navajo willow. He warns people to know what they plant first because some plants might have negative consequences on the landscape.

Back in the 1960s, Johnson said the government planted Russian olive or tamaracks for erosion control in Canyon de Chelly. Showing students before and after photos, the old river traveled caressing the walls of the canyon, while the present stream is a mere trickle compared to its former glory.
Tamaracks are detrimental to a dry ecosystem because they can use about 300 to 400 gallons of water per day. Getting rid of this prolific bush is difficult because pulling them or burning them does not work.

Dirt road erosion

Besides halting illegal dumping, repairing overgrazed areas and removing detrimental species, Johnson is also worried there are too many dirt roads on the Navajo Reservation.
“Personally, I feel the Navajo Nation has too many roads,” Johnson said.

Dirt roads cause the soil to be compacted, killing vegetation and allowing more water to run off the land. Johnson complained that too many people on the reservation have too many roads going to their houses. He suggests people stop making shortcut roads and stop driving all over to find their animals.
If you have to make a road, Johnson says to at least put it up parallel on a slope and not in a gully where it will channel water, causing erosion.

Another activity causing water run-off problems from compacted soil is the building of housing developments. Johnson suggests people begin to plant native species of plants around the home to prevent this water run-off.
The Navajo Nation has problems with too many dirt roads, but it spends millions of dollars each year fixing culverts under roads. Improper installation of culverts when they are set below the ground level causes devastating erosion. Johnson wants people to know that culverts need to be placed at ground level, not dug in, and roads should go up and over culverts.

Taking message home

Johnson’s message was well received by students like seventh grader Christopher Capitan from Whitehorse Jr. High, who said, “This is good to know because some people litter and do not care.”
The presentation Johnson gave capped a week of learning about water issues for the students enrolled in Summer Scholars through the EEOP. Johnson encouraged students to think about everything they learned regarding water and to be proactive.
“These are the little things that can be taken care of with a community effort,” he said.

Johnson said he is available to give presentations at chapter houses and schools.

• To report illegal dumping, call NNEPA at 1-888-643-7692.

• Fred Johnson contact:
NNEPA Water Quality/NPDES Program
PO Box 339, Window Rock, AZ. 86515
Telephone: (928) 871-7690

• Environmental Education Outreach Program contact:
Mansel Nelson
Telephone: (928) 523-1496

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