Navajo-Gallup water project faces $330 million gap

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Jul. 13—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Construction on a massive project to pipe water to the eastern Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the City of Gallup will continue "full steam ahead," despite a $330 million funding gap, federal officials told state lawmakers Monday.

Patrick Page, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Four Corners construction office, said the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project cost is now estimated at $1.7 billion.

Recent pipeline material and equipment cost spikes have driven up the project price tag, as has a need for intricate offshoots from two main water transmission lines.

"It was assumed that the connections to these (Navajo Tribal Utility Authority) distribution systems would be much less complex," Page said during a Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting.

Incorporating San Juan Generating Station reservoir facilities will also delay project completion from 2024 to 2028 or 2029.

The unfinished system currently delivers San Juan River water to about 6,000 people in eight Navajo communities.

Jicarilla Apache residents could receive project water later this summer.

Federally funded construction started nearly a decade ago to build 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 plumbing plants and several water storage tanks across a 7,800 square-mile region.

Reclamation estimates that about 250 miles of pipeline are finished, under construction or under contract.

"We don't expect the funding gap to impact us until at least 2024, so there's plenty of time to get it addressed," Page said.

A boost in yearly congressional appropriations could bridge the gap and complete the pipeline for residents in far western New Mexico.

Navajo residents "urgently" need the project because the Indian Health Service built most water infrastructure in the 1960s and 1970s, said Natanya Garnenez, a hydrologist with the Navajo Nation Water Resources Department.

But the aging systems only support residential use and, even now, 30% of Navajo residents do not have running water.

"As a result of little to no commercial or industrial development, the Navajo Nation continues to lack the ability to sustain a steady economy, and continues to lack the ability to increase employment opportunities for our people," Garnenez said.

In addition to Reclamation's yearly congressional appropriations, individual Navajo chapters also receive money for regional pipeline segments from the New Mexico Tribal Infrastructure Fund.

State Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, encouraged Navajo officials to utilize American Rescue Plan Act funds to speed up the pipeline project.

"As long as we're piece-mealing this, it is not going to happen," Shendo said.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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