S4E6 / Right to Water / Ernestine Chaco, Brianna Johnson, George McGraw, Jeanette Wolfley, Zoel Zohnnie
Play • 30 min

In 2020, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoel Zohnnie was feeling restless. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, he said, the importance of caring for family and community was instilled at an early age. So Zohnnie wanted to find a way to help members of his tribe. One need in particular stood out: water.

American Indian and Alaska Native households are 3.7 times more likely to lack complete plumbing compared with households whose members do not identify as Indigenous or Black, according to a 2019 mapping report on plumbing poverty in the United States. 

“Climate change and excessive water use is exacerbating these struggles,” explained George McGraw, CEO of DigDeep. “Much of the western United States has been in severe drought for years. Many rivers and wells on or near the Navajo land have dried up. As groundwater recedes, people are forced to seek water from unsafe sources.”

To answer that need, Zohnnie began hauling water to people who were without, and he founded Water Warriors United. In this episode, listeners come along for the ride as he ― and his truck ― make one herculean trek across snow-covered roads in New Mexico.  

Episode 6 is an exploration of the root causes behind the Navajo Nation’s water accessibility challenges and a story about the water rights that some communities have effectively lost.

Click here for a transcript of the episode.

Voices from the Episode: 

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.  

Our Editorial Advisory Board includes Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Alastair Bitsóí, and Bryan Pollard.  

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