With summer coming to an end, the Navajo Nation — the largest Native American reservation in the United States — is still dealing with devastating effects from the heat. Extreme drought has plagued the reservation since  2018. Faced with the drought’s impact, Navajo leaders are predicting  long-term effects and examining potential solutions.

“The leaders of the Navajo Nation are praying for rain,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a state of the nation address. “As we traveled throughout the Navajo Nation, we have seen first-hand what the people and their livestock are going through. We have seen animals not being attended to and livestock roaming, thirsty and hungry.”

According to the Navajo Nation’s Wildlife Climate Change Program, climate change caused the extreme drought. It has consequently dried land, leading to water scarcity and overgrazing, and leading to a bleak future for many of the land’s farmers and residents.

“Our people are right when they say that water is life,” Nez said. “We see what is happening all over the southwest. We are getting less and less moisture every year, our lakes and ponds are drying up, and our wells are depleting.”

According to a March 2021 study conducted by the Food Distribution Research Society (FDRS), the drought has already resulted in monetary losses of $8.2 million and $0.4 million for the cattle and hay sectors, respectively. 

“The long-term impacts of this drought have been too numerous to count,” said Sakya Calsoyas, who grew up on the reservation. “There are governmental and non-governmental factors that have lasting consequences.”

The persistence of the drought is complicating life for the Navajo people and their livestock. More than 40 percent of homes on the Navajo Nation reservation don’t have access to water infrastructure, and small lakes and ponds that provided water for the reservation’s livestock are losing water or drying up completely. 

“The drought has been going on for a long time,” Calsoyas said. “Our reservoirs that allow for megalopolises like Phoenix and Los Angeles to exist have been fairly depleted.  Reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at water levels not seen since their creation in the 1960s.”

The Navajo Nation Council president has said they have tried multiple approaches to assist its people. One such approach was having the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture go out and rescue the animals from the drought.

During the long drought periods, the Navajo Nation Council receives dozens of chapter resolutions requesting assistance. However, due to the lengthy and complex process for addressing resolutions, chapters may have to wait for multiple months to receive the assistance they need.

At this time, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared disaster designations in the counties the reservation is located in.

The Navajo Nation Commission of Emergency Management has predicted that the conditions will continue to deteriorate, resulting in increased disease, catastrophic wildfires, and a worsening socioeconomic status for the Nation as a result of the persistent droughts in these counties.

In the future, Calsoyas said the Navajo Nation Council plans to continue monitoring the effects of the drought, mitigating the damage and distributing resources to communities in need.