Report an accessibility problem

Engineers Without Borders

Shonto Irrigation

Engineers Without Borders – Arizona State University Student Chapter

Our project has formed a partnership with the Shonto Chapter of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona to aid in their attempt to restore a historically central aspect of their community’s way of life that has begun to slip away thanks to unforeseen environmental factors. For centuries, Navajo families have practiced traditional dryland farming in the lush and fertile Shonto Valley, where the water table was so close to the surface that irrigation canals were not required to cultivate crops, unlike other areas of the Southwest. However, a hydroelectric dam failure upstream of Shonto in the 1960s caused the creek feeding the valley to cut deep gullies into the earth. The water table has currently sunk to a level several meters below the surface, making dryland farming in the area all but impossible. Consequently, many families living in the valley have moved away and no longer farm, resulting in a significant economic blow to the region.

When looking at the Shonto Valley, it is not difficult to imagine how it was once a rich, fertile place, and how it could easily become that again now and in the future. In order for that to occur, the water table must be raised to its historical levels. This would not only allow dryland farming to resume, but it would also facilitate the return of farmers markets to Shonto, giving the community a major economic boost.

In order to raise the water table to the required depth, our project is planning to construct a series of check dams in succession within the valley. We have partnered with one of the few remaining farming families in the area, and they have allowed us to construct the dams on their land. By constructing these check dams, we plan to trap sediment as it moves down the valley, preventing further erosion and permitting sediment deposits to move the groundwater level closer to the surface. Currently, we have completed extensive surveying of the creek bed and surrounding landscape and determined the ideal location for construction. Furthermore, based on similar projects around the country and discussions with professional engineers, our project has decided to use wire-basket gabions as the primary construction material.

For the remainder of 2020, our plan is to use flow modeling data to calculate how much force our check dams must withstand when installed and finalize our dam design to begin prototyping. We will also continue to work closely with our community partners in Shonto so that we can begin on-site check dam construction as soon as we are able, and develop a manual to enable the Shonto community to maintain and construct further check dams themselves, allowing the further restoration of the Shonto valley and preservation of dryland farming for years to come.

Installation of monitoring wells

Remnant of the original dam

Surveying the creek bed

Surveying the creek bed

Connect with ASU EWB

Donate Now

Support ASU EWB

Officer Contact

Presidents - Katie Sue Pascavis & Alex Turner

Vice President - Kathleen Myers-Hauessler

Treasurer - Sam Banen

Secretary - Haley Prey

Social Media Manger - Kaitlyn Yeager

Equipment Manager - Gabriel Dryden

Historian - Jayashree Adivarahan

Recruitment Manager - August Westby

Fundraising Chair - Tyler Norkus

Outreach Chair - Tatum McMillan

Event Manager - Erin Smythe

Head of K-12 Outreach - Emma Skags

Head of Web Development - Rishon Dev Netala