​The Water Lady: A savior among the Navajo

"Water, water everywhere ..." A popular saying, without a drop of truth for some folks in one beautiful part of our country. Lee Cowan saw firsthand how they struggle to get by when he traveled there for our Sunday Morning Cover Story:

It's easy to miss this corner of the Navajo Nation, just 100 miles west of Albuquerque. Most things pass the Reservation right by, including progress.

Many of the roads here are unpaved. Electricity is spotty. Unemployment in the area hovers near 70 percent.

But perhaps most shocking of all? An estimated 40 percent of the people who live here don't have access to running water.

"We don't use the sink because there's no running water," said Loretta Smith.

Smith and her husband share a small mobile home with their disabled seven-year-old granddaughter, Brianna.

With no indoor plumbing, what little water the family has inside is carried in, bucket by bucket, stored in plastic barrels outside.

Cowan asked, "Do you feel sort of forgotten out here?"

"Yes, for sure," said Smith.

The area's main source of drinking water is miles away, in the parking lot of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission, in the town of Thoreau, New Mexico.

Getting water here can mean a 100-mile round trip for some families, and the Mission's office manager, Cindy Howe, says many don't even have access to a car.

So what happens when they run out? "If they don't have any water, it's just, they don't have any water," said Howe.

She said it has always been that way here. "Sometimes I get so frustrated. Why is it? Why can't people get water?"

And that's when Darlene Arviso comes in. They call her the "Water Lady."

Every day Arviso loads up her big yellow tanker truck and takes to the roads to deliver something most of us take for granted.

"When I see her coming, I'm like, 'Yes ! Yes! Water!'" Lucinda laughed.

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Forty percent of people living in one area of Navajo Nation have no access to running water, so Darlene Arviso drives her tanker filled with a most precious cargo.
CBS News

Arviso is Navajo, born and raised right here on the Reservation. She pretty much knows everyone here.

She's used to carrying precious cargo; she's been driving the school bus on the Reservation for years.

But her water route is a job she considers almost sacred.

"I'm proud of what I'm doing for my people. And I love my job."

"What do you love about it so much?"

"I go out every day to meet different families," she said.

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CBS News

There are 250 homes on her route, and she can only get to each family once a month -- and sometimes not even then, if the mud gets too thick.

Which is why when she DOES make it, it's often treated like a celebration.

Nina Garcia has never had a day with running water in her life. Unlike the rest of us, who use about 100 gallons of water a day, Nina has been getting by on only about seven -- a hard truth Arviso has a hard time watching.

"Sometimes I wish I could do more," she told Cowan.

"How do they make it last so long?