FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Officials on the Navajo Nation, where frigid
temperatures left thousands of people without running water, said they are
hopeful service can be fully restored by the end of the month.
Parts of northern Arizona experienced extreme sub-freezing temperatures caused
by an arctic air mass in January. Record or near-record low temperatures
significantly damaged potable water infrastructure in the area, and prompted
about 2,000 reports of water shortages on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
Gov. Jan Brewer issued an emergency declaration for the tribes Tuesday, freeing
up $200,000 to help out the reservations and parts of Apache, Coconino and
Navajo counties. The Arizona State Forestry Division sent two 3,000-gallon
potable water tenders to the Navajo Nation with plans to provide further
assistance, and others like the Salt River Project and the American Red Cross
have chipped in to help.
Rex Kontz, deputy general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said
tribal officials met with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency on Tuesday in their quest for a federal declaration of emergency. A
provision in a law signed by President Barack Obama last month allows tribes to
seek disaster aid directly from him, rather than wait on state governors to make
Both the Navajo and Hopi tribes had declared emergencies because of the
Crews on the Navajo Nation have responded to more than 940 reports of water
problems across the reservation, but more than 760 reports have not yet been
evaluated, Kontz said. Most of the reports that still require a response are in
and around the New Mexico communities of Crownpoint and Shiprock, Navajo
President Ben Shelly said.
The utility went before a Tribal Council committee on Tuesday to ask for $2.8
million in tribal funds to cover the cost of its emergency operations center and
staff 15 more crews, doubling the amount of crews helping to restore water to
“We just need to attack the workload,” Kontz said. “We can shorten the
timeframe by increasing the number of people on the ground fixing things.”
Kontz said FEMA representatives indicated that the tribe has met the threshold
for a federal emergency declaration, which gave tribal lawmakers comfort in
knowing the tribe could be reimbursed.
The Navajo Nation has estimated the cost of responding to the water shortages
at $7.5 million so far, which includes replacing or repairing water meters and
water lines. Some of the work required specialized equipment to access concrete
water pipes that are decades old, Kontz said.
For now, potable water tanks are being stationed across the reservation so that
people without water can fill up containers as needed, he said.
The situation isn’t as dire on the Hopi reservation, which is completely
surrounded by the Navajo Nation.
Roger Tungovia, director of the Hopi Department of Public Safety and Emergency
Services, said the tribe spent $30,000 so far responding to problems with water
lines at 100 homes. The tribe has deactivated its emergency response team and is
now providing supplies to residents in case problems arise as frozen pipes thaw,
“Right now, I think we pretty much got a handle on everything,” he said.