|‘To’ bee iina’’ Water is
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Poorly managed lands
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.
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.
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.
Besides halting illegal dumping, repairing
overgrazed areas and removing detrimental species, Johnson is
also worried there are too many dirt roads on the Navajo
“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
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
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
Taking message home
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
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
“These are the little things that can be
taken care of with a community effort,” he
Johnson said he is available to give
presentations at chapter houses and schools.
report illegal dumping, call NNEPA at 1-888-643-7692.
Fred Johnson contact:
NNEPA Water Quality/NPDES
PO Box 339, Window Rock, AZ. 86515
• Environmental Education Outreach