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‘Water Lady’: A Different Kind of Super-hero

With the assistance of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission, Darlene Arviso, “The Water Lady,” delivers about 3,500 gallons of water per weekday.

Super-heroes come in all shapes and sizes. We have the giant, rock-solid Incredible Hulk. We have the chiseled Superman from the planet Krypton. We have the warrior heroine Wonder Woman who flies an invisible plane. And we have the partly gray-haired grandma from the Navajo Nation known affectionately as the “Water Lady,” who drives a water truck and a school bus.

The Water Lady’s real name is Darlene Arviso. She travels the dirt roads of the eastern part of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo reservation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, stretching from northeastern Arizona into New Mexico and Utah. Arviso’s tribal clans are the Sleepy Rock People born for the Black Streak People.

She’s been working for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission in Thoreau, New Mexico, for the past eight years. Thoreau is about 100 miles west of Albuquerque near the Arizona border. With the assistance of the mission she delivers about 3,500 gallons of water per weekday, Monday through Friday, covering a 20-mile radius. She says, “I love it.”

“I have to meet with my clients every month,” says Arviso, who is from the Baca Chapter of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Many times her deliveries are met with a celebration-like reaction. “When I deliver water it’s a one-time-only (a month) for them. I have 220 clients (families). They’ll be waiting (anxiously) for me. Sometimes I give them my phone number so they’ll call me when they’re in need of something. Like if they’re getting low on water.”

The soft spoken and humble Arviso says she doesn’t mind being known in Navajo land as the Water Lady. “I like it. Everybody knows me as the Water Lady. Even the kids.”

Arviso was featured on CBS Sunday Morning in August to illustrate the massive water problem in her part of the Navajo Nation. According to the CBS report, 40 percent of residents on the Navajo Nation live without a daily supply of clean running water. That’s where Arviso and St. Bonaventure, a non-profit Catholic organization which also runs a K-8 school on the reservation, have stepped in.

St. Bonaventure has their own water well in the back of their office in Thoreau. This is the water source that keeps many Navajo people, including grandparents and small children, alive.

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“Some of the families have running water but the water is contaminated,” explained Arviso. “They’re not using (the water) for drinking or cooking purposes. The water that we have (at St. Bonaventure) is clean, it’s good. Water is very important. We have to live by it.”

Arviso’s weekdays begin with her getting her grandchildren ready for school. They attend St. Bonaventure. She loads them up on the bus and then proceeds to drive her morning route to pick up the other children around the area to get them to school. She has her Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and before joining the mission she worked as a water truck driver in Albuquerque for road construction.

After dropping off the children, she fills the water truck for her daily travel as the Water Lady and then has to make it back by 3 p.m. to drive her afternoon route.

“Darlene is a grandmother and knows the importance of ensuring her little ones get the quality education they deserve,” said Cindy Vandever Howe, Office Manager at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission. “So she gets up with them every morning to get them ready for school and places them on the bus. Then she gets ready, starts her bus and picks up other children to ensure they also get their education.

“She understands the struggles of her Navajo people and she does everything she can to help. To understand the need you have to travel to homes, sit and talk with people to understand their challenges. Darlene is our eyes and ears. Without her we would not know where the real need is,” added Howe, also a member of the Navajo Nation.

The Thoreau area received its first snowstorm of the winter season earlier this month. This adds another layer of difficulty to an already exhausting job in which she travels to seven different chapter houses (areas) of the Navajo Nation

“We have snow. It’s cold and it’s muddy. Before I go out I usually check the map to see if the roads are okay. If they’re not good in one area then I’ll go to a different area,” explained Advisor. “It makes me feel good doing my job and helping my people who are in need of help. I’m happy to see them too. They’re all my family now.”