Project touted as key piece in meeting longstanding obligations to Native Americans
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — About 40 percent of the 200,000 residents of the Navajo Nation must drive to get water for daily use, but that may change in the next few years, as crews last week started working on a 280-mile pipeline that will shunt water from the San Juan River deep into the heart of Navajo country.
“It is simply unacceptable that four in ten members of the Navajo Nation must
haul their water, often over long distances, from water stations,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said during a ground-breaking ceremony. “This project will be an engine for economic growth, create jobs, and supply the lifeblood for communities that have been without running water for far too long,” he said.
“We are turning dirt today on this project because President Obama has put such a high priority on honoring our commitments to Indian nations, to resolving long-standing water disputes, and to jump-starting major American infrastructure projects,” he added.
Altogether, the The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will serve 43 Navajo chapters, the southwest portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the city of Gallup with a long-term sustainable water supply to a population expected to reach approximately 250,000 people by the year 2040.
The project has not been particularly controversial, although a few people in the San Juan Basin think it takes too much water, as expressed in this Albuquereque Journal opinion column.
Matt Jenkins also explored the larger questions of water in the region in this piece for High Country News.
Water could be flowing through the aqueduct in two to three years and the Department of Interior expects to complete the project by 2024. Salazar credited President Obama with expediting high priority projects like the pipeline, which is the cornerstone of a hallmark Indian water rights settlement that resolved decades of uncertainty and dispute over water rights for the Navajo Nation and other water users in New Mexico.
The project is also one of 14 high-priority infrastructure initiatives being expedited by the Obama administration as a result of a Presidential Memorandum issued in August 2011.
“I am thankful that the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is about to begin construction,” said Navago President Ben Shelly. “This project is moving the Navajo Nation forward by bringing water to many homes. We will continue to look forward and anticipate the many benefits this project will bring to our people.”
Hundreds of workers will now begin construction on 280 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants and a delivery system that will serve 43 Navajo chapters, the southwest portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the city of Gallup. The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which will provide a long-term sustainable water supply to a population expected to reach approximately 250,000 people by the year 2040, will start providing water to some communities within 2-3 years and is expected to be fully built-out by 2024.
“Over the past three years, we have reached unprecedented and historic Indian water rights settlements that provide secure water supplies for communities and certainty to all water users,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. “To see the Navajo-Gallup Project break ground is to be reminded that consensus-building and cooperation can bring about real and lasting change for communities that still do not have clean and reliable water supplies. Today is
a proud day.”
The Bureau of Reclamation has worked closely with other federal agencies and with the Navajo Nation and to find ways to move quickly on the necessary environmental permits and other construction prerequisites to move forward as expeditiously and efficiently as possible as a high-priority infrastructure project.
Today’s groundbreaking marked the beginning of construction on the first four miles of the main pipeline, which will be constructed as part of Reach 12A near Tohlakai Hill, outside of Gallup. The initial stage of construction on the project will create upwards of 450 jobs, with more than 650 jobs at peak construction – providing employment opportunities and economic benefits to neighboring American Indian communities.
In addition to project reaches to be completed by Reclamation under its own authorities, other portions will be constructed by the city of Gallup, the Navajo Nation, and the Indian Health Service in accordance with financial assistance agreements with Reclamation.