Extreme dought worsening, officials tell committee
The Navajo Nation is experiencing an extreme drought phenomenon due to climate change, according to the Navajo Nation’s Fish and Wildlife Climate Change Program.
During a May 26 Resource and Development Committee meeting, Gloria Tom, director of Fish and Wildlife, presented the impact of drought and climate change.
“The climate is changing rapidly here on the Navajo Nation,” said Tom. “We don’t get the big snowfall that we seen in the past. Our precipitation levels are drastically lower. Our summers are longer and hotter. We are experiencing bad dust storms.”
Due to drought, vegetation is being lost and this causes sand and dust mobility and this creates the dust storms.
There are also a lot of sand dune formation and sand dune movement in certain parts of Navajo, said Tom.
“We are experiencing of abnormally low rain fall and low snowfall,” said Tom. “Leading to a shortage of water. We are in the midst of one (drought) right now. A drought is to be considered the second most costly weather event.”
Since 1980, 26 droughts cost the Navajo Nation about $249 billion with an average cost of more than $9.6 billion incurred during each event. Costs include infrastructure repair, infrastructure needs, and drought emergency response.
Also, low level lakes are the reality now with the potential impact on the revenue base for the department.
“The water level at Ganado Lake is extremely low,” said Tom. “Our prediction is if we don’t see a substantial precipitation by July, we could be in serious trouble. Not only with fishery but also with irrigation. The drought is causing economic strain on our people.”
Loss in crop production and an increase of farms that are not being cultivated, are other impacts.
When it comes to wildlife, Tom said it’s obvious that numbers are dwindling. She made a comparison of permit numbers where at one point five or six years ago, at a specific site, hunters were given over 250 deer permits but today that number is under 50 permits.
“We are seeing a lot of shifts in wildlife population moving from one area to another just to compensate for the impact to water and vegetation availability,” said Tom.
Also there’s an increase in forest and brush fires because of the low precipitation.
People are also feeling the strain as they haul water and buy supplemental feed for their animals and some have reduced their herds.
Keith Howard, wildlife technician for the climate change program, said due to the lack of precipitation a lot of the aquifers and water tables are not recharging, causing concern for the future.
“Our wells are going to dry up,” said Howard. “Are we able to deal with that when we run out of water as a Navajo Nation?”
Recommendations to address drought in terms of mitigation is reducing the amount of fossil fuel use, reducing water waste, and being more efficient in water use.
This would mean reducing the carbon footprint by carpooling, riding a bicycle or bus and upgrading old buildings, especially old tribal buildings could help with reducing water waste, which are currently wasting water and energy.
Committee member Mark Freeland said in his area the vegetation is nonexistent. He asked how they could focus on the drought and other issues that had been ignored because of COVID-19.
“We need to start refocusing our attention and energy back to these lingering challenges and issues,” said Freeland. “I’m very strong on this issue of drought. How do we begin dealing with this issue at hand?”