UArizona, Diné College to Train Next Generation of Navajo Water Scientists

Thursday, May 27, 2021
UArizona graduate student Marisa Gonzalez, an Indigenous Food, Energy and Water Security and Sovereignty (Indige-FEWSS) trainee, takes a conductivity measurement with Diné College students in Tsaile, Arizona, in June 2019. Photo Credit: Torran Anderson

The University of Arizona and Diné College have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collaboratively train the next generation of Navajo water scientists.

The grant comes from the USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture through the Tribal College Research Grant Program and will provide Navajo youth technical and hands-on experience in microbiology, molecular biology, chemical and microbial water analysis, and pressure-driven membrane processes. Through the collaborative research program, students at Diné College – a public tribal college in northern Arizona – will also learn about traditional and advanced water and wastewater treatment procedures.

"Water scarcity is increasing day by day, and we need our own Navajo water scientists who understand the traditional values associated with water and its importance. For Navajos, water is life," said Shazia Tabassum Hakim, principal investigator on the grant and a professor of microbiology and biomedical sciences in the Diné College School of Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math. "We want our students to see all aspects of water treatment and management and use them according to their own culture, own traditions and own needs.”

The research team will identify and address the possible presence of microbial and chemical contaminants in treated wastewater, the use of pressure-driven membrane filtration systems to polish effluent before reuse, and potential technical impediments to agricultural use of polished effluent.

"Arizona is in a long-term drought, and water resources will continue to decline. It is imperative that innovative ways of water recycling and conservation be explored," said Karletta Chief, co-principal investigator on the grant and a professor of environmental science in the UArizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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