Felicia Fonseca, AP
People gather outside the Navajo Nation Council chambers in Window Rock, Ariz. on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010.

ALBUQUERQUE — The nation's largest American Indian reservation is awash in extreme drought, and that has forced its leaders to declare an emergency.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the emergency declaration Monday along with a memorandum directing all executive branch agencies to develop plans for responding to the drought and educating the public about its effects.

"We are going to do everything we can to bring our people through this drought. We have many needs, and we are a strong people," Shelly said in a statement. "Water is precious, and we have to learn how to conserve and change our practices to make sure we prevail through these drought conditions."

Over the last month, drought on the Navajo Nation — from the tribe's lands in New Mexico and Arizona to southeastern Utah — has gone from bad to worse. The latest federal drought maps show extreme conditions covering the Four Corners region.

Some areas of the reservation have seen just over one-third of their normal precipitation this year. The soil is dry and wells aren't producing water like they have in the past, Shelly said.

Making matters worse is summer forecasts are predicting continued high temperatures and below average precipitation for the area. Navajo emergency management officials said that will likely result in lower river flows, which could have negative effects for livestock and municipal wells.

There are about 5,000 stock ponds across the reservation, and officials said as water supplies dwindle, more pressure will be placed on the tribe's windmills and drinking water wells.

The tribe's commission on emergency management said drought conditions have already created a critical shortage of water and feed for livestock.

"The land condition will continue to deteriorate and the socio-economic framework of the Navajo Nation will be negatively impacted," the commission stated. "The livestock owners and farmers will need to plan to protect and preserve their land and their livestock."

The declaration makes available emergency funds for Navajo communities and clears the way for the tribe to seek a federal disaster declaration.