According to a new study, Native American communities in Nevada lack access to the same plumbing facilities as their non-Native counterparts.

The study, “Assessing the effect of extreme heat on workforce health in the Southwestern USA,” by The Desert Research Institute and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities was recently published in “International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

The study examined trends and challenges associated with water security – or reliable access to a sufficient quantity of safe, clean water – in Native American households and communities of Nevada and also found an increase in the number of Safe Drinking Water Act violations during the last 15 years.

Native American communities in the Western U.S., including Nevada, are vulnerable to water security challenges because of factors such as population growth, climate change, drought, and water rights. In rural areas, aging or absent water infrastructure creates additional challenges.

“What we found is that, particularly for Native American communities, the amount of people lacking access to the proper plumping in the household is higher than other communities the same size in the same situation,” said lead author Erick Bandala, assistant research professor of environmental science at DRI, in an interview with the Daily Yonder. 

According to their results, during the 30-year time period from 1990-2019, an average of 0.67 percent of Native American households in Nevada lacked complete indoor plumbing – higher than the national average of 0.4 percent. The findings show a steady increase in the lack of access to plumbing over the last few decades, with more than 20,000 people affected in 2019.

Bandala said such findings can affect quality of life, particularly during the pandemic. Without proper plumbing, there was, and is, a lack of access to proper hand washing facilities, among other things. 

“If we know what is the size of the problem, then we can start strategizing how to deal with the problem, and perhaps from the many different possibilities, at least we can remove one of them and try to move to the next ones,” he added. 

Plumbing poverty may correlate with other types of poverty. The analysis by the team showed that as the number of people living in a household increased, access to complete plumbing decreased significantly. 

The study findings also showed a significant increase in the number of Safe Drinking Water Act violations in water facilities serving Native American communities in Nevada from 2005 to 2020. The most common health-based violations included presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), presence of coliform bacteria, and presence of inorganic chemicals.

“Water accessibility, reliability, and quality are major challenges for Native American communities in Nevada and throughout the Southwest,” said coauthor Maureen McCarthy, research professor of environmental science and director of the Native Climate project at DRI, in a statement. 

For the study, the team examined U.S. Census microdata on household plumbing characteristics to learn about the access of Native American community members to “complete plumbing facilities,” including piped water (hot and cold), a flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower. They also used water quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency to learn about drinking water sources and health violations.

Bandala said there is a lot of federal government money from the pandemic that can go to help Native and rural communities, but that he believes many of the communities don’t know how to access those funds. 

“This is something that is a concern, and we really would like to help these communities to do the proper application, so they can get the money, and then we can help them in advising what to do about that, and try to deal with the problem in a in a better, or the best way possible,” he added.

He said he would like to continue the analysis looking at the rest of the Southwestern U.S. 

“The situation is not very well known,” he said. “We need a systematic approach into these so we can know exactly what the situation is and then pass this information to the decision maker, so they can make the best decision possible.”

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