FARMINGTON — At a lecture last week at San Juan College, George McGraw spoke about efforts to bring clean water to the Navajo Nation and changing the viewpoint toward water accessibility.

McGraw is the founder and executive director of DigDeep, a nonprofit organization that has been installing water systems in homes located in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation.

The Los Angeles-based organization helps residences gain access to clean water on the reservation, where an estimated 40 percent of families do not have running water.

McGraw opened his lecture on Tuesday in the college's Little Theatre with a short video that showed the work being done to make clean water more accessible in chapters near Thoreau.

His work started after receiving a call from a woman in Ventura, Calif. who contacted DigDeep with a donation but stipulated the money be spent on bringing clean water to residents on the Navajo Nation.

McGraw said he wanted to use the money for projects the organization was addressing then but traveled with the woman to a community outside Gallup where they met Navajo families.

That trip changed the direction of DigDeep, which had been focused on work in Cameroon in central Africa, and resulted in the Navajo Water Project starting in 2013, he said.

"Karen knew something that I didn’t which is that two million people in this country still don't have access to a basic source of clean drinking water and a lot of them are indigenous," McGraw said.

While the average person in the United States uses 100 gallons of water daily, many of those without running water use less than one gallon a day, he added.

The lack of accessibility changes a person's relationship with water, resulting in conservation, he said.

Through the Navajo Water Project, DigDeep has used financial donations to install cistern systems that bring running water to residences. The water is stored in 1,200-gallon tanks and pumped into a sink and shower inside the homes.

McGraw said the organization consults with community members to develop and manage the water systems.

As of this year, DigDeep has installed systems in Thoreau, Baca-Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Borrego Pass, Mariano Lake and Bluewater.

"I think that we – literally we, the people in this room – if we spent time, effort and recourse, we could solve this problem on the Navajo Nation in our lifetime," McGraw said.

Farmington resident Watson Bradley attended the lecture because he was curious about the project.

Bradley said he can relate to using a gallon of water a day because that is how he grew up in the Burnham area.

San Juan College student Lamanda Atcitty said she related to the presentation because some members of her family do not have access to clean water at home.

"It intrigues me because this is where I come from," Atcitty said.

The event was part of the Citizens Bank Broadening Horizons Lecture Series and part of the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at the college.

Byron Tsabetsaye, director for the Native American Center at the college, said while it is important to look at indigenous history and existence, the Indigenous Peoples Day planning committee wanted to look at current lifestyles and the living situation of Native Americans.

"The Navajo Water Project is a project that works within the Navajo reservation on an issue that is important and one that is quite real," Tsabetsaye said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.


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