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Providing water for cattle on the Navajo nation

StrikeForce Landing

By Barry Hamilton

Cattle drink clean water from a new well on the Navajo Nation, dug with the help of NRCS

Cattle drink clean water from a new well on the Navajo Nation, dug with the help of NRCS.

Rancher Willie Utley of Benavides, Texas (left), and Sammy Guerra, NRCS district conservationist, st

Rancher Willie Utley of Benavides, Texas (left), and Sammy Guerra, NRCS district conservationist, stand near the future site of his solar pump.

Two chapters of the Navajo Nation in Utah are getting new livestock wells, thanks to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Members of the Teec Nos Pos and Red Mesa chapters use wells drilled deep into the desert floor to water their 1,000 or so cattle, sheep and goats. (A chapter is both a rural community and a unit of local government in the Navajo Nation.) But in the 2000s, the Navajo Nation Water Code Administrationfound, through testing, that these wells had high levels of arsenic, uranium and E. coli, rendering them not usable for both humans and livestock. 

After the discovery, ranchers had to truck in water from up to two hours away for their livestock because they could not afford to drill new wells. But despite their best efforts, the harsh desert conditions killed some of the cattle.

During the past year, through USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative, NRCS was able to partner with the chapters and the Navajo Nation Department of Agricultureto dig two new wells and safely decommission the contaminated wells.

StrikeForce addresses high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 20 states, including Arizona, with a special emphasis on historically underserved communities and producers in counties with persistent poverty. NRCS was able to contribute 90 percent of the cost of digging the new wells and closing up the old wells.

The Navajo Nation, which is about 27,000 square miles — the size of West Virginia — has one of the highest poverty levels of any area in the U.S. More than 173,000 people live on the reservation.

Now that the new wells have been drilled, NRCS is helping the Teec Nos Pos and Red Mesa chapters install pipeline and troughs to provide multiple access points for cattle to drink from.

“As far as our priority concern that we have for our community, the way we want to see in the future – five, 10,20 years down the line for our new generation – is to have better water quality to meet the needs of our livestock,” said Herman Farley, president of the Red Mesa Chapter.

Because of the success of this project, Fred White, executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources, is now exploring more opportunities to enhance and protect the natural resources of Tribal lands with NRCS and other USDA agencies. With the ongoing drought in the West, efficient use of water is crucial for landowners. Financial assistance through StrikeForce is helping operations in Utah and around the country not only survive but thrive.

For example, in Texas, StrikeForce helped Willie Utley install a solar-powered well, which provides fresh, cool water to livestock and wildlife. Like the Navajo Nation, this well saves Utley the trouble and expense of hauling in water or moving cattle to leased pastures.

“Without StrikeForce, I would not have been able to afford drilling a new well,” Utley said. “It’s going to be a big improvement and lessens the worry of not having water when you need it.”Just off the Rio Grande River sits Santo Domingo Pueblo, a community in New Mexico surrounded by a sea of green -- fields of alfalfa, oats and Sudan grass and small gardens to grow fresh vegetables.

StrikeForce is creating conservation opportunities in rural communities and tribes across the nation. Learn more.