Uni­ver­si­ties to treat wa­ter on reser­va­tion

Pi­lot project by Navajo Tech, NM Tech to in­stall fil­tra­tion units for wells


En­vi­ron­men­tal science stu­dents at Navajo Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity are of­ten asked by their pro­fes­sors about how they want to give back to their Navajo Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties.

The top an­swer: by im­prov­ing ac­cess to clean wa­ter.

Navajo Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity and New Mex­ico Tech have teamed up to ad­dress such wa­ter is­sues in ru­ral Navajo ar­eas, start­ing a pi­lot project to build and op­er­ate fil­tra­tion units for well sites across the vast reser­va­tion.

The units can treat even the dirt­i­est wa­ter, said Robert Balch, di­rec­tor of the Petroleum Re­cov­ery Re­search Cen­ter at New

Mex­ico Tech and a project lead.

“So many res­i­dents on reser­va­tions have to drive some­times 100 miles to get wa­ter, and bring it back to the house in bot­tles,” Balch said. “Well wa­ter is avail­able to lot of tribes, but is not al­ways in great shape.”

The U.S. Wa­ter Al­liance es­ti­mates that 30% of Navajo res­i­dents don’t have run­ning wa­ter.

The uni­ver­si­ties signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on Tues­day in Crown­point to launch the project. The tech­nol­ogy was in­vented by New Mex­ico Tech re­searcher Jian­jia Yu.

Dirty wa­ter will be treated with bun­dles of hol­low fiber mem­brane — thin poly­mer “straws” with a coat­ing to help fil­ter con­tam­i­nants. Each straw open­ing is about the width of a hu­man hair. The units can fil­ter out salt, phos­phates, ni­trates and heavy met­als.

Wa­ter at wind­mills, tanks and wells will be treated for agri­cul­tural use. But with state ap­proval, the tech­nol­ogy could treat drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies.

Ab­hishek Roy­Chowd­hury, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal science and nat­u­ral re­sources at Navajo Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity, said the team will work with Navajo agen­cies to iden­tify ar­eas that have the worst wa­ter qual­ity or the most se­vere wa­ter ac­ces­si­bil­ity is­sues.

“Our stu­dents will learn the science and be trained in the tech­nol­ogy, but will also learn prac­ti­cal ways to get in­volved with the com­mu­nity to solve en­vi­ron­men­tal science prob­lems,” he said.

Navajo com­mu­ni­ties will learn ba­sic up­keep for the sys­tems. The NTU team will trans­late sci­en­tific terms and wa­ter data into the Diné lan­guage.

“These stu­dents know the value of wa­ter,” Roy­Chowd­hury said. “If we can get a wa­ter fil­tra­tion sys­tem to the most re­mote part of the reser­va­tion so peo­ple just have to drive a mile in­stead of 100 miles, that’s a huge ben­e­fit.”

The team will work with Pesco, a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany in Farm­ing­ton. Stu­dents will be­gin sam­pling sites later this year.

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