Photo ® Dig Deep

Darlene Arviso: The Water Lady

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Darlene Arviso has been hauling water as long as she can remember. Born on the Navajo reservation a few miles from Thoreau, New Mexico, she grew up hauling water from the local church. Now, Darlene drives a water truck for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission, delivering water to homes across the Navajo Nation.

Hauling your own water is commonplace for many living on the Navajo Nation, with some people driving up to two hours each way in search of a water spigot with water that is clean enough to drink. As a driver for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission, Darlene is responsible for delivering water to 250 homes in and around Thoreau.

Four days out of the week, Darlene fills up the 3,500-gallon water tank on her truck, which is known on the reservation as the “yellow buffalo,” before heading out to deliver water to homes across the Navajo Nation. Nicknamed the “Water Lady,” Darlene brings water to some of the lowest-resourced communities on the reservation where many residents live on roughly seven gallons of water per day. To put it in perspective, the average American uses 80–100 gallons of water per day for indoor home uses. 

Darleen delivers water to homes that have been outfitted with off-grid home water systems by nonprofit DigDeep. These systems consist of 1,200-gallon underground water tanks that flow through the tap via solar power. During COVID-19, DigDeep started deploying smaller, portable 275-gallon water tanks to homes awaiting system installations. Due to resource constraints and the condition of the roads, Darlene is usually only able to make it to four homes per day. This means that the 1,200 (or 275) gallons of water each household receives per delivery must last a month, on average.

To many on her water route, Darlene is more than just a water delivery woman. Along with water, she provides food and wood to some families, as well as counsel and friendship. She hands out her cell phone number to all of her clients and picks up their calls when they reach out for help. Sometimes they need extra food or blankets. Other times they just want someone to talk to.

“I was raised in a family with an instinct to help people,” says Darlene. “I just can’t deliver water and keep going on my way. These people not only depend on me for water, but many don’t have anybody else to lean on. With more younger people growing up and leaving the reservation to pursue other opportunities, a lot of the people left behind are older and need help getting by. As long as people depend on me, I will continue to do this job.”

Around 30 percent of homes on the Navajo Nation do not have running water. To address this issue and other challenges around water and sanitation on the Navajo Nation, Kohler is partnering with DigDeep on the Water Is Life microgrant program to fund and build innovative, sustainable solutions to the U.S. water crisis.

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