Pilot testing of renewable-energy powered desalination systems in the Navajo Nation for small and rural communities

Project ID: 19093
Principal Investigator: Jessica Asbill-Case
Research Topic: Improved Power Generation
Funded Fiscal Years: 2019, 2020 and 2021
Keywords: None

Research Question

Is the technology technically feasible and affordable for rural and tribal communities?
What technical challenges remain for implementing these technologies in rural and Native
American communities?
Can the Navajo Nation testing provide a model for other communities wishing to implement
distributed systems for potable water production or drought/disaster relief?

Need and Benefit

In the Navajo Nation, 35% of the population is not connected to a central power source and
8,000 homes do not have direct access to potable water. The unit water cost among Navajo
citizens who drive long distances for fresh water is estimated at $43,000 per acre-ft, to put this
number in perspective, this is 43 times higher than cost of water for Tucson residents. The cost
of water in remote parts of the Navajo Nation is among the highest in the United States for a
sector of the population that is among the poorest. The following is a link to the news release for
a compelling documentary describing the water supply challenges for the Navajo Nation:


Reclamation has trust responsibilities to provide water and power to tribal communities and
water supply obligations in remote or rural areas. Specifically, LC and GP, have communities
that have limited access to fresh water supplies and grid power. Other regions within
Reclamation may have communities that could benefit from portable, renewable energy
powered systems when drought or other disasters necessitate rapid deployment of emergency
water supply systems.
A gap currently exists between the renewable energy sector and the water treatment industry in
effectively coupling these systems to provide off-grid water treatment solutions. Currently, there
are no commercially available systems for this purpose to meet remote, tribal, or emergency
drought or disaster relief needs.
A thorough literature search as well as, laboratory and field testing has been conducted in
previous S&T studies. This project will leverage the experience gained in the previous studies to
focus on illustrating the necessary performance and cost drivers needed for technology
Large numbers of Native Americans living in Arizona have little or no local access to clean,
potable water. They are required to haul water for domestic, culinary, and livestock use.
There are estimates that these families spend upwards of $43,000 per acre-foot for water
using this method. This water is some of the most expensive in the United States for a
sector of the population that is among the poorest. Since the power grid is not available to
most of these people, electricity is mostly nonexistent.
Successful testing of a pilot system will provide the data necessary for future investments
by NTUA to replicate this system across the Navajo Nation.
Currently in remote areas with limited access to fresh water or grid electricity, long distribution
pipelines are required for water supply. Access to affordable de-centralized water treatment
systems can improve the quality of life, public health, and economic viability in these remote
communities. Because installing electricity and water distribution systems in these areas has
been deemed economically infeasible, water hauling is required and no cost-effective alternative

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Please contact research@usbr.gov about research products related to this project.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20