“The number one thing that matters is water” Marshall Johnson says as he picks up a large piece of cardboard and sketches on it the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer that lies deep below Black Mesa, a sacred piece of land on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Aquifer (or “N-Aquifer”), sits 2,500 feet below ground level and holds extremely pure water due to sandstone filtration. It is the only potable water on the reservation but has a fraught history of water transfers to large-scale farmers and coal fired power plants. Marshall Johnson speaks of how difficult it is to see the water beneath your feet exported to large farming corporations in the southern part of the state and subsidized at a price much cheaper than the water on reservation.
Marshall Johnson and his wife Nicole Horseherder started a grassroots organization named To Nizhoni Ani (Sacred Water Speaks) as a way for Navajo people to have their voices heard. To Nizhoni Ani, the first environmental group based in the region of Black Mesa, emphasizes water sustainability and education in the local community. They are preserving the water beneath Black Mesa by ending coal slurrying and installing water conservation equipment inside reservation schools, houses, and community buildings. Marshall Johnson and his family are working to instill in others a deeper respect of water, a value that could be treasured everywhere, but most especially in the heart of the arid West.
By Sophie Poukish