The 500 residents of Supai Village in the Grand Canyon are without water after weekend floods knocked out their well water pump and its backup generator. A 700-foot break in the sewage line feeding a lagoon has also raised concerns that once water is reconnected, it might be contaminated.
The Red Cross and St. Mary’s Food Bank are organizing a large-scale effort to bring water to the remote tribe. Each group plans to begin transporting about 30,000 bottles of water — 20 pallets — to the Hualapai Hilltop from Phoenix tomorrow at 4 a.m., where the pallets will have to be airlifted down into the Grand Canyon.
“We’re sending a truckload out immediately of what we have on hand,” said Jerry Brown, of Saint Mary’s Food Bank.
The water supply is all that St. Mary’s has on hand, so they will need immediate donations to continue supplying the tribal members. The nonprofit is asking for donations of water and cash.
Mohave County is also donating 6,000 sandbags to help villagers prevent the water from entering their properties again.
“We’re trying to get some of the elders and tribal members to head up to Peach Springs,” said Havasupai Tribe Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy Sr. “We’re going to set up a Red Cross shelter for the week.”
The primitive village is accessible only by helicopter or a trail via an 8-mile trip down from the rim of the canyon at Hualapai Hilltop.
The Havasupai people have called the Grand Canyon home for hundreds of years and now occupy a reservation of about 185,000 acres.
Supai Village, which still has its mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service on mules, is widely considered one of the most remote cities in the contiguous United States.
The area is popular with tourists for its blue-green waterfalls caused by natural formations of travertine.
WELL PUMP OVERWHELMED
According to the National Weather Service, there were two floods high enough to cover footbridges on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening. Meteorologists estimated that 1.25 to 1.5 inches of rain fell upstream from Supai in one event. According to the U.S. Geological Survey office in Flagstaff, the first flood damaged their streamflow gauge.
The tribal leader said that the water was 12 to 15 feet high on both days of flooding, which was not enough to damage homes, but did leave floodwaters in people’s yards.
The water also overwhelmed the well pump and wiped out the backup generator that should have kept clean water flowing to residents. Putesoy said the tribe had all the supplies on hand to fix the well pump and repair efforts were under way.
Tribal officials went around the village on Tuesday trying to convince elders and tribal members to evacuate, but the reception was cool. Once residents knew they would have bottled water and a return to utilities in the near future, most elected to stay.
Some 200 cases of water were brought in by helicopter Tuesday and distributed to the elders and community members. Some of the village has been without power for the past two days, but it is expected to be restored soon.
CONCERN OVER CONTAMINATION
The biggest problem is likely to be the 700 feet of sewer line that was severed on Sunday night. That line connects the upper village to the lower village, before feeding into a lagoon.
Officials are concerned that the water supply could have been contaminated. That means that once running water is restored, the water will have to be taken from the canyon and sampled for three to five days before people will be able to drink it.
It’s hoped that a replacement line can be brought in today and that sewerage will be restored by Thursday.
No outside visitors will be allowed into the popular tourist area for at least a week, according to the camping office. Tribal officials say that hikers were allowed down into the reservation on Tuesday morning before the council met and voted to close down tourist activities until the situation is fixed.
DONATE WATER TO ST. MARY’S
St. Mary’s is asking for donations of bottled water to be dropped off at their locations around Phoenix and in Flagstaff. Coconino County officials say they were asked to provide sandbags, but they were limited in what they could offer because of the recent flooding in this county.
Mohave County, which has not seen the same level of flooding, offered to help.
Flagstaff residents can drop off water at the St. Mary’s location at 1806 West Route 66 today and Thursday, but the office will be closed after that until next Tuesday.
It costs the nonprofit about $2 for a case of water, so donations can also be made at www.irstfoodbank.org.
The agency says its supplies of bottled water were already low from above-average temperatures around the Valley.
Eric Betz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2250.