A new municipal water source is on its way to Navajo and Jicarilla Apache communities in northwest New Mexico.
Recent completion of the Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant in San Juan County is a major milestone of the ongoing $1.1 billion Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.
The $68.8 million plant south of Bloomfield is undergoing a six-month startup and testing phase to ensure the water meets federal standards. It is expected to go online in March.
“The emphasis of the project has always been to bring a clean, reliable water source to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache tribes,” said Pat Page Deputy Construction Engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation. “This will change lives for generations to come.”
The treatment plant pulls water from the Cutter Lateral and Reservoir, which is fed by Navajo Lake. The system was built to fulfill tribal water rights on the San Juan River.
“With the focus on access to water because of the pandemic, the importance of the water project is amplified,” Page said.
The treated water will flow through the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority piping system. It will replace groundwater sources that have had problems with reliability, quality and quantity.
On the Navajo Nation, the treated water source will serve 1,350 to 1,400 homes in Carson Huerfano, Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, Nageezi, Ojo Encino North, Torreon and Whitehorse Lake.
On Jicarilla Apache land, it will serve the southwestern area of the reservation, including the Teepee Junction community.
At full capacity, the Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant will produce 5.4 million gallons per day for the Navajo Tribe and 1.1 million gallons per day for the Jicarilla Tribe.
The Jicarilla Tribe has agreed to fund a piping system to deliver the water to Teepee Junction, where it will connect with homes, businesses and the Apache Nugget Travel Center and Casino on U.S. 550.
The improved water infrastructure will allow for more residential and business development in the southern portion of the Jicarilla Apache reservation. Currently, the majority of tribal members live in the Dulce area because of the lack of infrastructure elsewhere.
“Getting to this point in the project is a proud moment for the Bureau of Reclamation and for the communities that will be served,” Page said.
The Cutter Lateral water treatment plant will create 10 jobs, and additional jobs will be created to maintain the pipeline system. It is in the Navajo community of Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, pronounced dee-zeel-NAH-oo-dee-lee, or “Dee-zee” for short.
Water for Tribes, GallupThe Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is being built as part of the 2010 Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Act on the San Juan River Basin.
The project entails 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, storage tanks, 24 pumping stations and overhead electrical transmission lines. It provides treated municipal and commercial water to remote areas of the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla-Apache Nation and the city of Gallup.
Based on the expected populations in the year 2040, the project would serve 203,000 people in 43 chapters in the Navajo Nation, 1,300 people in the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and about 47,000 people in the city of Gallup.
The project diverts about 36,000 acre-feet of water per year from the San Juan River, and 4,645 acre-feet per year from Cutter Reservoir, which is fed by Navajo reservoir.
Construction began in 2013, with completion estimated for 2024. It is being built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, city of Gallup, Navajo Nation and Indian Health Service.
Luther Livingston, of the Navajo Nation’s Nachittti Chapter, said Navajos are looking forward to more convenient access for water to their communities.
“Right now, many drive 25 miles one way to haul water,” he said. “With the water from this project, our plan is to provide a more centrally located water tank for residents. We are seeing the progress, and would like to see more of our companies get contracts to lay the pipe.”
The water will also provide economic opportunity, Livingston said. With delivered water, there is opportunity to improve a local laundromat, and build new businesses.