Navajo and Jicarilla-Apache Nation communities in New Mexico are one step closer to receiving domestic and commercial water supplies as part of a $1.13 billion federal construction project.
The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply project is being built as part of the 2010 Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Act on the San Juan River.
New diversions from the San Juan River will provide more reliable water for Gallup and Navajo communities south of Shiprock who are hauling water from wells.
Construction began in 2013 with completion estimated for 2024. It is being built by the Bureau of Reclamation, city of Gallup, Navajo Nation and Indian Health Service.
By early 2020, the southwest area of Jicarilla-Apache Nation will be the first to have access to the water. A water treatment plant south of Bloomfield along with pumping plants, piping and storage tanks are nearing completion, said deputy construction engineer Pat Page.
Contracts worth $66 million awarded last year went toward that portion of the project.
This fall, the Department of Interior awarded a $62 million to Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. of Roanoke, Texas, to lay 28 miles of 48-inch and 42-inch water pipeline between the community of Naschitti and Twin Lakes. Work will begin in January, with completion expected in 2020. Once online in 2024, it will provide water turnouts to the communities of Naschitti, Buffalo Springs, Tohatchi and Mexican Springs.
“This contract is a big step toward completing the project, which is a top priority as it fits into the administration’s commitment to improving infrastructure,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said.
“The project is critical to providing a much-needed, long-term, sustainable water supply for people on the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache reservations and the city of Gallup. It is also the cornerstone of our commitments under the Navajo Nation San Juan River Water Rights Settlement.”
Luther Livingston, commission president of the Navajo Nation’s Nachittti Chapter, said Navajos are looking forward to providing 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.
Work on the San Juan lateral has begun on the southern portion. Completing the pipeline in this area allows Navajo communities around Gallup to receive piped water from wells. The interim use of groundwater is expected to arrive in 2018, Page said.
“The infrastructure will be ready to deliver the groundwater,” he said. “It is up to the Navajo Nation to decide when and where.”
When completed, the entire project will consist of about 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.
As of October, $385 million has been obligated toward construction.
The Navajo-Gallup water 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.
The San Juan lateral will draw water from a new pumping plant on the San Juan River east of Shiprock and into a nearby new water treatment plant.
Based on the expected populations in the year 2040, the project would serve about 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 has a lot of momentum and support,” Page said. “The dream of a long-term, reliable water supply for this area is becoming a reality.”