280 mile, $83.7 million, water supply pipeline gets new cash infusion

Infrastructure project set to bring water to Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Gallup in two years.

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation

FARMINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has announced the more money is available for construction of an $83.7 million, 280-mile pipeline that will bring water for municipal, industrial, and domestic use from the San Juan River to the eastern part of the Navajo Nation.

The two-year project affects the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, other rural communities in northwestern New Mexico and the city of Gallup. Those areas now rely on a dwindling groundwater supply, but the pipeline is designed to change that.

"This water supply will support a future population of approximately 250,000 people by the year 2040," according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website.

The current, decreasing water supply "also impacts the ability of the Jicarilla Apache people to live and work outside the reservation town of Dulce," the website stated.

New construction starting soon

Called the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the pipeline is set to begin new construction in January of 2020, may be completed in approximately two years and creates approximately 400 to 650 jobs over the course of its construction, according to the Sept. 12 press release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 

"The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will bring a multitude of health and economic benefits to the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Navajo Nation reservation communities in northwestern New Mexico,” Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney said in the release.  

“I congratulate all who worked to secure this funding for such a vital infrastructure project, which, when completed, will ensure that families, schools, businesses and health care facilities in these locales to have a reliable source of drinking water," Sweeney continued." This project has been years in the making, and I am looking forward to its successful completion.”

The pipeline is being built as part of the Navajo Nation San Juan River in New Mexico Water Rights Settlement Agreement, a 2005 settlement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico that established the Navajo Nation’s water rights in the San Juan Basin, and the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.

“The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will be transformative for communities in the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and Gallup," said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M>, in the Bureau of Reclamation's press release. "Over the last decade, I’ve been proud to fight for the major federal investments necessary to finally deliver long-term clean drinking water supplies to thousands of families throughout northwestern New Mexico.”

The areas served by the pipeline rely on rapidly depleting groundwater. Groundwater used by the city of Gallup has dropped by approximately 200 feet over the past 10 years, and groundwater used by the Navajo Nation has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will be designed to provide water for 250,000 people by 2040.

Along with the main pipeline, the project will also see construction of several pumping plants and two water treatment plants, the release states.

Note: This story was modified to clarify that the pipeline project recently received funding to continue construction of the pipeline. The pipeline, and its components, have been under construction since 2012.