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Navajo Nation members beg for water conservation to save Lake Powell

Posted at 9:55 PM, May 12, 2023

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah — JoAnn Yazzi-Pioche was very young when Lake Powell was created, and she knew people living down in the canyons who were forced to leave when the lake was filled.

“They had always lived down there, where there was a stream there," she said. "They grew crops, they had orchards, all these things until much later that they had to go. They had to get out of that canyon.”

Yazzi-Pioche, now the president of the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, says the construction of the dam brought jobs to many Native Americans.

“It brought a lot of people from across the Navajo Nation here for work," she said. "My father worked there for many years during the construction of it.”

Yazzi-Pioche doesn't know if the dam has helped or hurt the people living on the reservation.

"Life would definitely be different, that's for sure," she said. "We would still have access to the Colorado River, and I know a lot of people had gone down into the river to make offerings, which, once the dam was put in, they couldn't do that anymore.”

While natives never would have built the dam themselves, their communities have been depending on it now for decades and don't know what life would look like if it was torn down.

Lake Powell's water levels are expected to rise at least 50 feet by this summer, but those who have lived in the area since before the lake was built are nervous about the future of the precious water resource. Yazzi-Pioche saays conservation is the only solution to saving the lake.

“People downriver really need to start cutting back on the water usage," she said. "You go to the Phoenix area, and man, you see golf courses, green lawns, and it's like: 'Gosh, we live in the desert, hello!'”

LeChee Chapter members, like Roberta Lyons, don't feel that optimistic about the rising lake levels.

“For them to have 25 hotels and more going up, and all that water going out, and we're not getting enough in, and none of it’s Navajo-owned, it just doesn't make sense to me," said Lyons.

READ: Busy tourism season expected for Lake Powell as water levels rise

Native Americans are resilient and adaptive; their survival relies on the fate of Lake Powell, she said.

“We settled here because we had to," said Lyons. "It wasn't our first choice. But our people are still out here hauling water and doing what they need to do to survive.”