Running water solution helps Hopi Reservation address COVID-19 safety concerns

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 13, 2020

HOPI RESERVATION, AZ — "We all came down with an illness and we thought it was just a flu."

But what Bea Norton and her entire family got sick with was more than the flu -- and not everyone would survive it.

"That was always her wish to die at home. At least she was with me when she finally passed. And I miss her a lot."

Bea's mom, Triva, lost her battle with coronavirus in April -- one of the first people to die of COVID-19 on the Hopi Reservation.

RELATED: Navajo Nation works to rebound after community hit hard by coronavirus

"It's a lot of guilt because you think about, 'Was it me who brought it in?' My family and I have gone through that emotional part just trying to figure how she could have contracted it."

One of the reasons why doctors say COVID-19 spread so rapidly on the Navajo Nation and here on the Hopi Reservation is that so many people don't have access to running water inside their homes. Of 35 families who live in Bea's village, zero of them have running water.

"Sometimes when you have to wash your hands, you know we use the same water, and the family used the water several times over before we pour it out. Sometimes to the point where we don't really wash our hands the way that we should be able to."

But today, all of that changes. For the first time ever, Bea and her family have a working sink.

"It feels good."

And Bea isn't the only one. More than 100 families across the Navajo and Hopi reservations now have access to something that so many of us take for granted.

"We knew there was demand for it," says Joe Seidenberg, who is the executive director of Red Feather, a non-profit that helps make life in Arizona's tribal communities safer and more sustainable.

"When COVID hit, we were concerned because of the high number of families who don't have running water in their homes. And we were just trying to figure out how we could quickly provide a response that would help keep people safe and provide increased sanitation."

His solution? Hand-washing stations made out of trash cans. With a few stomps on the foot pedal, water gets pumped through plastic pipes and starts trickling out of the faucet. Hope, flowing out with every drop.

"Instead of just having a basin of water sitting on the kitchen counter, they have an entire unit that is dedicated to it. Every time you walk by it, you're reminded of the fact that washing your hands is a good thing. And it can help stop the spread of COVID."

And the best part is, waste water isn't actually wasted. You can connect a hose to the other trash can and re-direct the water to plants or even a garden.

For Bea and the other families in this village, it doesn't entirely solve the water crisis. They'll still need to drive to area wells to fill up storage containers, but it brings them one step closer to the goal of having running water.

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This is the final piece in a week-long series of special reports from the Navajo Nation. See part one in our series, a one-on-one interview with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, here.