A year after public health emergency declared, first water truck arrives
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – Two of five water-hauling trucks designated for areas of the Navajo Nation where the drinking water is contaminated, or not available at all, arrived in Fort Defiance the first week of January. When they actually will begin service, and when the other three trucks will arrive is anyone’s guess.
In 2009, Najam Tariq of Navajo Division of Water Resources put together a proposal requesting $2.64 million from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a three-year water hauling pilot project which included five 4,000-gallon stainless steel tankers. EPA approved the project and in August 2009 Tariq estimated it would take 90 to 180 days to get the trucks and three to six months to implement the program.
On Jan.15, 2010, a public health state of emergency was declared for Navajo residents in northwestern Leupp and southeastern Cameron who were drinking uranium- and arsenic-contaminated water. A public health “emergency,” by definition, generally means there is some immediate threat and demands quick action. Or at least that’s what members of the Forgotten People thought when they pushed for the emergency declaration due to the number of cancer victims out in the Black Falls/Box Spring/Grand Falls area.
“We don’t know at this time when the trucks are going to go out,” Tariq said Tuesday. “They have to be tagged, we have to get the title. We are in the process of doing that so we can get the registration, insurance and everything. We are doing our best to put them on the road as soon as we can. We are not wasting any time. We just have to comply with the process.”
As far as when the other three trucks will arrive, he said, “No idea, to be very honest.”
Part of the process – aside from tags, title and insurance – is lining up a driver with the proper credentials, locating a safe drinking water source from which the water will be hauled as well as a point to which it will be delivered, making sure the roads are navigable and any bridges that might be encountered can handle the weight.
During a Jan. 5 exit interview with the 21st Navajo Nation Council Resources Committee, Tariq stated that the first two trucks had arrived that morning. “We will expedite to get them registered and insured and everything. As I mentioned before the Resources Committee, and also we promised to the people, the first load of water will go to the Black Falls and Box Spring area,” he said.
Rolanda Tohannie of Box Spring, a survivor of thyroid and
esophagus cancer, underwent her sixth surgery in mid-December,
this time to have a tumor removed from the right side of her neck.
She received a donation of drinking water from Native American
Support Mission in Anaheim, Calif.
The Forgotten People, meanwhile, are running thin on patience and are tired of waiting for emergency action. They want to see an immediate plan of action on water delivery and last week had their attorney, James W. Zion of Albuquerque, send a letter to Tariq advising him that the Forgotten People Community Development Corp. intends to enforce the rights of the residents of the Leupp and Cameron chapters affected by the emergency declaration. They want an accounting of all funds appropriated for the emergency.
“We want enforcement of the grant,” Marsha Monestersky, program director, said, “We want Forgotten People to participate, because we actually know what might be a good way to do things. We want the resources put in place and we want it now. We’re not waiting anymore. It’s been over a year. We got GPS coordinates of all the locations of people’s homes, the roads, the driveways. We thought this emergency was going to be real. If they had a soul they’d be embarrassed.
“This is the year to write grants and file grant enforcement suits if necessary. We are going to provide relief to the people. It’s not that we want to file a grant enforcement suit, but a year is too long to wait for people that area suffering and dying.”
Milton Yazzie of Black Falls was contracted by the U.S. EPA Region 9 Superfund program to haul drinking water from “Sparkletts” in Flagstaff to the home of Jimmie and Irene Lee and Florabelle Paddock from December 2009 through February 2010. Since the EPA-funded water delivery ended nearly a year ago, Yazzie has been making deliveries out of his own pocket, except for one donation he received last September from some concerned individuals.
“I try to make deliveries when I’ve got the money, every two weeks; but I’ve been having some problems. I had all three vehicles go down on me and we had no transportation for about three weeks. The one that I’ve been hauling water with, my 4-wheel went out and I can’t get through without no 4-wheel, especially to Flora’s.”
After the federal contract ran out, Yazzie said, “everybody was getting sick. I know they were back to drinking that same water again.” He decided to continue the deliveries. At first it wasn’t so costly, then Flagstaff tacked on a new tax and the price of gas went up as well. He also added Rolanda and Larry Tohannie, who live near Box Spring without electricity and running water, to his deliveries.
Larry has congestive heart failure and Rolanda, a survivor of thyroid and esophagus cancer, underwent a hysterectomy in July because cysts were found growing on her uterus. She spent the week of Dec. 9 at Flagstaff Medical Center where doctors removed a tumor from the side of her neck. Because some nerves had to be cut during the procedure, one side of her face is now sagging, though she is expected to recover in time.
“She’s in dire straits, and right now they don’t have nothing to haul water with,” Yazzie said. “They have an automobile but it keeps going off and on. She wanted me to start doing some firewood for her. They only had one stick left when I went Friday.” At five o’clock the next morning he loaded up half a truck bed from his own firewood stack and took it to the Tohannies before daylight.
“There’s six of them in that household. I added one more bottle to their’s other than the four I usually do. It set me back $83 for 13 bottles and I’m still $7 in the hole (to Sparklettes) from the last time.”
Yazzie said he can’t handle more than $80 out of his income because he only works four hours a day providing home care for his mother. “If I do it every two weeks it’s going to be $160 a month. Gas is a whole different story. It’s almost $3.21 a gallon in Cameron now.” In Flagstaff it’s about 2 cents shy of $3, he said.
“But the wear and tear, that got me big-time though. I got stuck three times coming back out of Florabelle’s. They ruined both their rides and I had to take them into town to get their parts and bring them back to where they live. Florabelle is in and out of the hospital so much because her red or white blood cells were diminishing. She came home yesterday after spending a week in the hospital with pneumonia,” Yazzie said Wednesday.
At a meeting of the Forgotten People in July 2009 after Paddock learned she was sick, she said she had been drinking water from Tohatchi Springs all her life. “I did not know it was contaminated. I am angry and frustrated we were not informed. No one was going door to door to tell us the water we are drinking is contaminated.”
Tariq told the Resources Committee that in addition to the water truck, they are running a water line very close to the Box Spring area and it should be completed before summer. “That water line is actually for livestock water use, but we are also working in conjunction with the Bureau of Reclamation to convert that livestock water into drinking water by installing a treatment plant over there. We have a requested for funding and the Bureau of Reclamation is very, very interested to fund that project,” he said.
Another 6 miles of water line, also for livestock, would bring the water close to the river in the Grand Falls area, he said, and they will try to see if they can get a treatment plant there as well so people don’t have to drive 15 to 30 miles for water.
Water Resources also has prepared a proposal with Indian Health Service to drill two exploratory wells to provide drinking water for the western Leupp/Black Falls/Grand Falls/Box Spring area, he said. They received $450,000 to drill one well. Funding for the second well depends on the success of the first well.