Philanthropic Plumbing Project Returns to Navajo Reservation

After helping 10 households last year on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico as part of the Community Plumbing Challenge, volunteers recently returned to the reservation in an area in Arizona to assist three more families

Philanthropic Plumbing Project Returns to Navajo Reservation

Each household received new 1,200-gallon water tanks to provide for their freshwater needs, with regular deliveries from a water truck planned.

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While working on plumbing projects in Arizona last month, Randy Lorge encountered conditions as bad as anything he’s ever seen — that includes Indonesia, South Africa and India. 

Lorge, director of workforce training and development for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), and a team of volunteers spent early June helping residents of the Navajo Reservation near the Piute Mesa area of Navajo Mountain in Arizona as part of the Community Plumbing Challenge program. It was a follow-up to work Community Plumbing Challenge volunteers did on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico last fall

“Honestly, they are as bad, if not worse in some cases,” Lorge says of the projects they’ve done for Navajo Reservation residents compared to the sites for other Community Plumbing Challenge projects. “They really are breathtaking experiences. When you look at where we are and what we have here in the United States, then to see what the Navajo have been dealing with for all these years, and it’s right underneath our noses.”

The biggest challenge for the volunteers doing the recent work in Arizona was the isolation and remote sites for the homes being worked on — it was a three-hour round trip to the nearest municipality and supply store.

According to the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation, another organization involved with the Community Plumbing Challenge, 40% of the Navajo Reservation population lives without running water or sewer.

Volunteers work on installing a septic system at a home. The family of six living in the home had been relying solely on an outhouse located about 70 yards away.
Volunteers work on installing a septic system at a home. The family of six living in the home had been relying solely on an outhouse located about 70 yards away.

“They’re very remote — no running water, no sewer system, no electricity, nothing. They don’t have anything out there,” Lorge says. “They were probably somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes off of the paved road into the reservation, and kind of up into the mountains.”

The Community Plumbing Challenge team tackled three homes this time around. Many of the homes in the Navajo Reservation are government-sponsored builds, and quite a few actually have plumbing built in. However, they have no infrastructure to connect to, and the systems haven’t been maintained or adapted for the region.

“If you can imagine having a house with all the plumbing in it but no sewer and no water to go to it, that’s what two of the three homes had,” Lorge says.

Lorge and the rest of the volunteer team replaced all plumbing fixtures with energy-efficient options, then installed 1,200-gallon water cisterns and septic systems. Photovoltaic pumps were put in to pressurize the new water distribution systems. Support was provided by numerous group partners and even corporate sponsors, such as Ferguson, LIXIL, Milwaukee Tool and RWC/SharkBite.

“We took on three homes over the course of five days,” Lorge says. “We had a 92-year-old woman who turned on water for the first time. She had her great-grandchildren with her. It was remarkable.”

You can see her reaction in the video below from IAPMO:

IWSH and IAPMO partnered with the Navajo Water Project through a human rights nonprofit called DigDeep. As part of the Navajo Water Project, the plumbing project ties into a larger effort by DigDeep to bore a new well and establish an entirely new water delivery infrastructure for the region.

Planning for the next Community Plumbing Challenge project is already underway. Next year the focus will shift back to Indonesia — site of the 2017 Community Plumbing Challenge — where teams will work in a small fishing village.


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