Impacts of Resource Development on Native American Lands
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Hydrology of the Navajo Nation

This page was written by Erin Klauk as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education.

Waterfall in the Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River, which flow over Quaternary lavas and Mesozoic-Paleozoic strata on the Navajo Nation east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Details

The Navajo Nation, which lies on the Colorado Plateau, is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Green River, San Juan River and Little Colorado River (CO Plateau (more info) ).

Generally, the aquifers in the Colorado Plateau area are composed of permeable, moderately to well-consolidated sedimentary rocks. These rocks range in age from Permian to Tertiary and vary greatly in thickness, lithology, and hydraulic characteristics. The principal aquifers on the Navajo Nation are the Mesaverde aquifer, the Dakota-Glen Canyon aquifer system, and the Coconino-De Chelly aquifer (Robson and Banta, 1993 (more info) ).

Walls of the eolian Permian DeChelly Sandstone exposed in Tséyi' (Canyon de Chelly), carved into the Defiance Plateau in the central Navajo Nation. Details


Current, up to date information on the surface water, ground water and water quality can be obtained here (more info) . For more information about water quality and the environment, visit the environmental impacts page.

To further investigate the hydrology of the Navajo Nation, follow the links below.

Hydrology of the Colorado Plateau

Resources containing information about the hydrology on the Navajo Nation.

  • Water Development, Extraction, and Diversion (more info) This site is made up of six pages that describe water development, extraction, and diversion in the Colorado Plateau physiographic province. Topics covered in these pages include an introduction, pre-settlement water use continued: ancient irrigation and other water uses, Mormon settlement and the dawn of large-scale irrigation on the Colorado Plateau, the thirst of the growing west, the bureau of reclamation transforms the west, and the tide turns. Also included in this site are a list of references, a search box, and links that allow other subject matter of the Colorado Plateau to be accessed.
  • Ground Water Atlas of the United States - Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah (more info) This USGS site includes information about the aquifers in the Colorado Plateau, including the principal aquifers, which are the Uinta-Animas aquifer, the Mesaverde aquifer, the Dakota-Glen Canyon aquifer system, and the Coconino-De Chelly aquifer. Topics for the aquifers include hydrogeologic units, recharge and discharge, water-level conditions, aquifer characteristics and ground water quality. Links to figures are provided throughout the text and can be viewed separately, or can be previewed, downloaded, and viewed all at once.
  • Navajo Nation Water Quality Monitoring Program (more info) This website provides information about the water quality of drinking wells and springs near abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. The site is searchable by name or by clicking on an area of interest on the provided map. Also included is information about the possible health effects of metal contaminants and radioisotopes found in the water.
  • Monitoring the Effects of Ground-Water Withdrawals from the N Aquifer in the Black Mesa Area, Northeastern Arizona (more info) This USGS site provides information about monitoring the effects of ground-water withdrawals from the north aquifer in the Black Mesa area in northeastern Arizona. The topics covered are hydrogeology, data-collection activities, ground-water withdrawal, surface-water discharge and water chemistry. Also included in this site are links to enlarge figures, and a references.
  • Assessments of Aquifer Sensitivity on Navajo Nation and Adjacent Lands and Ground-Water Vulnerability to Pesticide Contamination on the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah (more info) This USGS report is an assessment of aquifer sensitivity on the Navajo Nation and ground-water vulnerability to pesticide contamination. The topics include an introduction that covers this project's purpose and scope, geohydrologic setting, and a review of selected, previously used assessment methods. Other topics covered are the methods developed for assessment of the geology, precipitation, soil properties, slope of the land surface, and stream courses of the area, results of assessments of aquifer sensitivity, and the method developed for and results of assessment of ground-water vulnerability. Also embedded in this report are figures, tables and an appendix related to the topics.

Contaminated Hydrology

Resources containing information about contaminated hydrology on the Navajo Nation.

  • [Baumgartner et al, 2000] This article in Water, Air and Soil Pollution provides results from a study that simulated metal (manganese, molybdenum, selenium and uranium) concentrations found at ten inactive uranium ore milling sites. The study determined plant tissue levels after a controlled 90 day growth period. Most of the plants showed an increased accumulation of each metal, with some accumulations reaching unacceptable levels.
  • [Hakonson-Hayesa et al, 2002] This article in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity discusses the drinking water contamination levels in the Nambe region of northern New Mexico based on the EPA’s recommended drinking water standards. Uranium uptake was estimated in tomato, squash, lettuce and radishes irrigated with Nambe well water. Plant uptake and human dose and toxicity associated with ingestion of water and produce was evaluated, as well as inhalation of irrigated soil related to gardening activities. Uranium concentration in plants increased linearly with increasing uranium concentration in irrigation water, particularly in lettuce and radishes.
  • [Orloff, 2004] This article in Environmental Research discusses the effects of human exposure to uranium in groundwater. The study is based on water samples with high concentrations of uranium collected from private wells in a residential community. The results of this investigation demonstrated that after long-term ingestion of uranium in drinking water, elevated concentrations of uranium in urine could be detected up to 10 months after exposure had stopped.
  • [VanMetre and Gray, 1992] This article in the Hydrological Sciences Journal discusses the effects of uranium mining discharges on the water quality in the Puerto River Basin in Arizona and New Mexico. From 1967 to 1986, uranium mine dewatering increased dissolved uranium and radium activities and dissolved selenium and molybdenum concentrations. The results of the study are quantified by time trends, area patterns involving distance from the mines and stream discharge.
  • [Millard et al, 1983] This New Mexico Environmental Improvement Division (EID) summary report reports the results of environmental monitoring conducted by the EID subsequent to the mill tailings spill in 1979 at Church Rock, NM.


For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.




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