Imagine a future where communities across the Navajo Nation have access to clean water, and Navajo students become community leaders who engage family and community members to utilize modern technologies while honoring and integrating deep cultural traditions.

This is the vision of N4WPP, the Navajo Technical University (NTU)-New Mexico Tech (NMT) Navajo Nation Water Purification Project.  The project was conceived during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and officially launched on Sept. 22, 2020, with a formal agreement between President Elmer Guy of NTU and President Stephen Wells of NMT. A dedicated group of members from both universities are working toward converting this vision into a reality.

The basis of the N4WPP partnership is water filtration technology that was developed at NMT for treating produced water in oil fields.  This state-of-the art technology is capable of removing major salts and metals–including uranium that contaminates many wells across the Nation. It can be installed in remote areas where windmill-powered water pumps fill water tanks for livestock.  The short-term goal is to identify wells with poor water quality, install these filtration units and utilize the purified water for agriculture and livestock.  The long-term goal is to provide a water source that has been tested safe for home use.  Many families travel long distances to collect water from these wells; we can help improve their health and overall well-being by ensuring this water is safe.

The filtration technology is the foundation of N4WPP, but the heart is education. NTU and NMT students are involved in every aspect of the project, including collecting and analyzing water samples, working with land owners in search of prospective filtration sites, and community outreach and engagement.  These students are key for project sustainability and are the future workforce and leaders for the Navajo Nation. NMT and NTU are working closely together to engage students in water-related research, entrepreneurship, and leadership development, with a strong base in STEM disciplines.

Since the project inception, NTU and NMT students have worked as research assistants with members at both universities. Several of these students are collaborating with landowners to identify the first location to test the filtration units. Last year two students from NTU and one from NMT participated in national leadership training as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Raising awareness and inspiring students to solve the most important challenges of our communities is another essential component. To this end, the N4WPP team is planning their first water symposium at Farmington High School in April. This symposium will educate and engage high school students through a competition with opportunities to be mentored by professionals, talk to college students about their water-related research, and earn scholarships and internships.

One of the most beautiful and rewarding outcomes of N4WPP is the strong partnership that is forming to address one of the most important challenges of the Navajo Nation.  Several NTU and NMT teams meet weekly to plan the different project components.

This ambitious dream launched just over a year ago continues to build momentum. We look forward to the results of building amazing collaborations, educational opportunities, and community engagement across the Navajo Nation and New Mexico, all in the context of sustainable water infrastructure with and for the Navajo people. Tó éí ‘iiná. Water is life.

This column represents the views of the author and does not reflect those of New Mexico Tech, the Socorro Consolidated School District, 100% Socorro, or any other organizations, affiliations or their members.

Sharon Sessions, Guest Columnist