Written partly by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act won approval Wednesday from the U.S. House. Bingaman expects that early next week Obama will sign into law the measure, part of a public lands bill that cleared the Senate in January.
The legislation would authorize federal funding for a pipeline to serve Gallup and the Navajo reservation and various water conservation projects in addition to settling Navajo water rights claims in the San Juan River Basin, according to Bingaman's office.
The Nation suffers from a lack of drinking water, but the bill would "bring water for the first time to some Navajo homes," Bingaman said in a prepared statement.
"It's very important that we find solutions to these water disputes, Indian water disputes, going on in our state," the Democratic senator said. "Probably the largest of those, dollar-wise and impact-wise, has been this Navajo-Gallup dispute."
The state of New Mexico and the tribe signed an agreement in 2005 that resolves the tribe's water claims.
Bingaman's bill authorizes $870 million for the project, the bulk of which the federal government would fund through about two decades, according to Bingaman's office. The state and communities served would pay for a portion of the project.
Bingaman said some funding could come from the $787 billion economic recovery package. He also would ask the Obama administration to set aside funding for the pipeline in the future.
"It's clear it will take some substantial period of time to build out this Navajo-Gallup pipeline," Bingaman said. The bill provides a "road map for how we can proceed to appropriate funds to get this done."
The legislation would recognize about 600,000 acre-feet per year of water that would go to Navajo people for agricultural, industrial, municipal, domestic and stock watering purposes. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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