FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly declared a state of emergency Friday on the reservation because a cold spell left thousands of people without water — even the president himself.

"Seven days I've been without water," Shelly said in his State of the Nation Address on Monday at the Navajo Nation Council Chambers in Window Rock.

Shelly signed a resolution Friday afternoon making the declaration after it passed the Commission on Emergency Management with a unanimous vote.

"We need to access emergency services to help our people who have been without water," Shelly said in a press release Friday.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority said nearly 2,000 homes reported losing access to water because their pipes were damaged by subfreezing temperatures in recent weeks.

The number of homes, though, likely is closer to about 6,000 because a lot of people have not reported their losses, according to Rex Kontz, deputy general manager of the utility, who reported to the council Monday during the winter session.

Shiprock, Window Rock, Kayenta, Chinle, Dilkon, Crownpoint and Pinedale all have reported water problems. Most of those reporting have been out of water for seven or eight days, or longer.

The issue stems not only from the pipes freezing and breaking, but also from those same pipes thawing and gushing water, the press release said. The loss of water dropped the pressure in supply lines drastically, preventing water from flowing at all, the release said.


Many of the pipes on the reservation date back to the 1950s when pipes were made out of clay- and cement-like material, utility officials said.

"They almost closed the Fort Defiance hospital," said Council Delegate Russell Begay, of Shiprock, explaining that the hospital had little to no water pressure.

Begay, who said Shiprock was the worst off, said families have been bringing their children to Farmington just to shower and use the bathrooms. He has received more than 100 calls from his constituents and referred them to the utility. Some said they were not able to get through to anyone via phone or email.

"Some of these places, we're not just talking three days, we're talking three weeks," he said. "We need a realistic timeline."

Many of the supermarkets on the reservation also are short of water for sale because so many people are collecting it, a concern which made the delegates even more adamant about a deadline.

Kontz gave no solid deadline for when water systems would be repaired, though he did say that they were slowly making progress.

The utility is responding to the reports as quickly as it can, Kontz said, and many of its employees are working 15-hour days. It also is working with the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management.

While some delegates urged the utility to work as quickly as possible, others focused on the long-term issue, saying that the utility needs to completely renovate the water systems throughout the reservation since many people live without running water year-round.

"Boy ... I would say about 80 percent of the Navajo Nation is without running water. Had I known that that would constitute an emergency, I would say that we've been in a state of emergency forever," said Council Katherine Benally. "Is it because President Shelly is impacted, and because the speaker is impacted?"