Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Water Connects Communities

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One-line solution summary:

Determine the water budget in arid environments for sustainable land management by Indigenous communities.

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Pitch your solution.

In the southwestern U.S., there are two ways groundwater is recharged, rainfall and snowmelt, providing a critical resource for water-scarce communities. The relative importance of snowmelt and rainfall is poorly known and varies regionally. Variation in the stable isotope ratios can identify contributions from rainfall and snowmelt. I purpose using hydrogen and oxygen isotopes to determine the water budget of the Black Mesa region within the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. The Navajo (Diné) people, have traditionally relied on springs and alluvial aquifers to maintain their identity and lifestyle for hundreds of years before and after colonization.  The past several decades have seen a progressive decrease in discharge from springs and alluvial aquifers that has had a direct impact on the Diné people. Moving forward as an Indigenous community, my research will focus on data collection, analysis, and recommendations for practical use by water managers for future planning and sustainability. 

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What specific problem are you solving?

My research links the Diné people to western science by utilizing stable isotopes to evaluate the water budget on Black Mesa while being mindful and respectful of Diné traditional and cultural practices. According to Navajo Environmental Protection Agency a total of 523 wells along with surface water supply 162 public water systems on the Navajo Reservation. About 15% of the tribal population does not have access to safe drinking water. The Indian Health Service and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority have been actively working on extensions to existing water systems, and developing new water systems in order to reach those without access. Some tribal members prefer to haul drinking water from a particular well or spring because they like the taste of that specific source of water and/or for traditional ceremonial practices. Many community members within my study area are not connected to a public water system nor do they have electricity. The importance of shallow groundwater is not only a key resource for the Diné people but it is also a part of our philosophy that water connects all living entities together on earth. 

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What is your solution?

My solution involves using stable isotopes to serve as a tracer for investigating recharge sources to springs, shallow aquifers, and deeper bedrock aquifers. I will also be measuring stable isotopes in water from plant stems to test the seasonal variation in sources of groundwater for plant communities over the course of a year. Precipitation collectors will serve as an input water source to quantify the contribution it has to groundwater.

       Stable isotopes are measured as a ratio using mass spectrometry which is calibrated to an international standard known as Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water. Stable isotopes in water are affected by meteorological processes that provides a fingerprint to characterize their origin. For example, inputs from snowmelt will have a δ¹⁸O ratio of -14.18‰ whereas inputs from rainfall will have a δ¹⁸O ratio of -8.20‰. This fundamental fingerprint is important to investing the source of groundwater recharge. Precipitation provides an input signal to create a local meteoric water line (LMWL) that serves as the baseline for groundwater. The variation of surface-water and groundwater data are plotted along LMWL; this technique-allows determination of rate of groundwater circulation, watershed response to precipitation, and time of year when recharge occurs. 

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Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?

The Black Mesa basin extends to nine Indigenous communities that are supported by local springs and aquifers. These Navajo chapters include Black Mesa, Pinon, Forest Lake, Hard Rock, Tolani Lake, Low Mountain, Blue Gap, Shonto, and the Hopi Tribe. As a member of the Diné Nation that grew up in the Shonto community, we understand water is more than a single entity made of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The Diné people respect water as a component to life that is a part of a larger interconnected environmental system. Our relationship with water is tied to our clan system used by individuals to identify relatives, to practice traditional sacred ceremonies, and to provide a mechanism through our oral history that connects communities together with traditional ecological knowledge.

        We through our Diné culture understand that water connects us to all living entities on Earth. Studying the hydrologic cycle within a watershed on Navajo land opens discussions and offers an opportunity for Diné people to educate individuals about their own culture, traditions, and philosophy that could provide necessary tools needed to resolve environmental issues at a local scale. At times, these communities are confronted with environmental issues related to water but do not have the quantitative data to support their claims when asking for assistance through local and regional governments. This project aims at supporting local communities so they can understand their local hydrologic system, to strengthen tribal understanding of water systems as it connects to our culture, and to justify funding to combat environmental issues that impact these communities in the Black Mesa watershed.     

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Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?

Provide healthy and sovereign food, sustainable energy, and safe water
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Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Fellowship and your selected dimension.

My research will offer an opportunity for Navajo tribal members to learn more about the Navajo Nation’s water supply. Examining ephemeral channels and recharge will provide important information for policy makers to manage growth, biodiversity, water quality, ecosystems, and the livelihood of the Diné. My research will educate Navajo community members about the importance of their aquifers. I would also like to recruit high school and college students to conduct environmental field measurements, in order to introduce students to the geosciences. My research has global implications since alluvial recharge is a critical source of water for other semi-arid communities.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

West Lafayette, IN, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Concept: An idea being explored for its feasibility to build a product, service, or business model based on that idea
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Who is the primary delegate for your solution?

Derrick J Slick

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Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.

Navajo Nation

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Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?

Yes

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

An important part of my research will be sharing my results with local Navajo Chapter Officials, Colleges, and High School students.  Because I am fluent in the Navajo language I can convey the results of my science to my Elders in our language. This will provide these students at a young age a perspective that science is important to people and communities.  My pathway to graduate school has taken me temporarily away from Diné Bikeyah but it will eventually lead me back to the springs and groundwater that nourish my people and preserves our culture.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The Water Connects Communities solution uses Geographic Information System for mapping, on-site precipitation collectors with 20 grams of mineral oil to minimize evaporation, a weather station for real time data collection, stable water isotopes analysis (e.g., rain, snow, springs, wells, earthen dams, stem water from vegetation, runoff, and snowpack), and most importantly the support of local Indigenous communities. The design of this project is a simple mass balance equation of knowing the inputs and outputs of a hydrologic system. Stable isotopes provides a unique component to this solution to better understand the hydrological processes by comparing the stable water isotopic compositions to estimate seasonality in the groundwater recharge. 

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Provide evidence that this technology works.

The study of hydraulics first began with Darcy's experiment with the plumbing for the fountains in Dijon, France during the 1850's. Darcy's research of flow and fiction losses in pipes established Darcy's law, which is widely used to describe the flow of water through sand. Today, the overuse of this resource has moved groundwater research to the forefront of geoscience. The provenance of groundwater and its renewability processes occur within the subsurface of the earth, environmental isotopes provides indications of groundwater provenance. Environmental isotopes in hydrogeology has become routinely used to investigate groundwater quality, geochemical evolution, recharge processes, rock-water interacts, and contaminant processes. 

Please find link below for more information: 

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hyp.7524?casa_token=yFjDbsCvWR0AAAAA:B_qupv-fg_RcXk7B8PV-jX8iIRbeVaI5Z941GE7BhrSXsBlkj84fGDBVeHKRhMHkY3nYeNdGvG6p2kg

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Materials Science
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What is your theory of change?

The Water Connects Communities solution provides information to Navajo communities with limited access to research and data collection. The theory of change starts with empowering local Navajo communities to engineer infrastructure to protect their water sources, establish a policy for aquifer protection, and design resources for future sustainable practices. This solution provides evidence that explores and cultivates the necessary tools for long-term sustainable solutions within local, regional, national, and international levels of environmental problems.   

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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Infants
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities
  • U.S. Veterans
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 3. Good Health and Well-Being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 15. Life on Land
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In which state(s) do you currently operate?

  • Arizona
  • Indiana
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In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?

  • Arizona
  • Indiana
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

According to 2010 U.S. Census, the total Navajo enrollment is 332,129 and the total Navajos living on the Reservation is 156,823. A estimate of 17,196 people including Hopi community members will be impacted by this solution. Future population growth for this region was estimated to increase by 2.48 percent at mid-range growth scenario by North Central Arizona Water Supply study based on the 2000 U.S. Census. 

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

My goal for the next year is to return to the Navajo Reservation and present my research results to my Elders in our Navajo language, provide resources for Navajo tribal officials, and share my educational journey with local students. 

Within five years, my goals is to expanded on my research to other communities on the Navajo Reservation and continue to provide information to tribal officials and other Indigenous organizations. 

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What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

The only significant barrier is the financial component to visit these communities to continue to my work, provide support, network, and collaborate with other Indigenous scholars conducting research within their communities. The Indigenous Communities Fellowship will be instrumental to the success of my future goals. 

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How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

To overcome these barriers, it is important that I continue to interact with Navajo community members and the only way to do this is in person. To have a positive impact The Indigenous Communities Fellowship will give the support to continue my presents within my community.  

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit
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How many people work on your solution team?

1. I work on this solution as part of my master's program. 

2. Ken Ridgway is my primary advisor. 

3. Lisa Welp, my co-advisor. 

4. Marty Frisbee, committee member. 

 5. Chris Andronicos, committee member. 



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How many years have you worked on your solution?

3

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Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

I am a part of a biogeochemical, hydrological and geological team at Purdue University, including Professor Lisa Welp a biogeochemist will be helping me with stable isotope analysis. Professor Marty Frisbee, expert in groundwater and surface water interactions within the Southwest region. I also work with Professor Ken Ridgway, sedimentary geologist who has experience working with Native communities on tribal lands. Professor Chris Andronicos, a researcher who is focused on the integration of petrology and geochemistry with structural geology and geophysics. With this support, I am confident and determined to make a better connection between water science and native communities.

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What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

Partners include the following Navajo chapters; Black Mesa, Pinon, Forest Lake, Hard Rock, and Tolani Lake. 

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

What is your path to financial sustainability?

The Water Connects Communities solution has achieved financial security since 2017 from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program, SLOAN program, and from Hydrologist helping others fellowship. In order to achieve my long term goals, I would like to expend my funding source with the support of Indigenous Communities Fellowship. 

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What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

Travel expense $6000, $4000 for field equipment; total $10000.

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Why are you applying to Solve?

The MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellowship will help with growth and provide a positive impacts for Navajo community members.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Solution technology
  • Monitoring and evaluation
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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Experian Prize to advance your solution?

My work/research is on the Navajo Reservation working with rural communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19.
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Solution Team

 
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