Funding for water, wastewater projects approved

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Foreman James Bitsilly walks through the grounds area toward the aeration basin at the utility's Wastewater Treatment Plant in Shiprock on Sept. 21, 2015.

FARMINGTON – Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has approved a resolution to use a portion of a $554 million settlement to provide funding for bulk water and wastewater development on the Navajo Nation.

Begaye signed the resolution on Monday. It had been approved by the Navajo Nation Council on Jan. 28 during the winter session.

Begaye called the resolution “historic” in a press release from his office because it will use $180 million for the development of water and wastewater systems in communities and areas across the reservation.

“No other tribe has spent this amount of money to provide water to their people. All our communities will be impacted. We are doing this for ourselves and investing in our future,” the president said in the release.

Tribal officials have stated water and wastewater systems are needed for residents and to increase economic development.

The funding would come from the Síhasin Fund, which was established after the tribe received a multimillion dollar settlement from the federal government in 2014 for the mismanagement of money generated from leases pertaining to the tribe’s natural resources.

Last year, the Naa’bik’íyáti’ Síhasin Fund Subcommittee determined it was in the tribe’s best interest to finance the development of bulk water delivery systems and wastewater treatment facilities.

Among the subcommittee’s responsibilities is to recommend an expenditure plan for the settlement funds.

The recommendation was also based on comments collected during the public hearings conducted by the Office of the Speaker and the town halls held by then-President Ben Shelly’s office in late 2014.

During the subcommittee meetings, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch submitted a five-year proposal to develop the water and wastewater projects.

NTUA Deputy General Manager Rex Kontz said on Thursday the funding would be distributed over a five-year period starting in 2017.

The tribal enterprise would use the funds to establish systems to accommodate the delivery of large volumes of water, as well as renovating and upgrading the existing system.

The biological process trickling filter is pictured on Sept. 21, 2015, at the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's Wastewater Treatment Plant in Shiprock.

Kontz said the majority of the existing infrastructure was inherited from systems built by the tribe or by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and has been in place since NTUA was created in 1959.

Other projects include connecting residences to the new systems and constructing new wastewater treatment plants in Shiprock, and in Kayenta and Tuba City in Arizona, he said.

Council delegates applauded the president's approval of the resolution, according to a press release from the speaker's office.

The release also explains that a number of delegates spent two days in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to advocate for federal funds to assist the projects listed in the resolution.

Delegates Leonard Tsosie, Walter Phelps, Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Nathaniel Brown and Seth Damon met with representatives and senators, and with officials from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Tsosie told federal lawmakers the tribe is seeking assistance through supplemental funding and wants to expedite regulations that would quicken the completion of the projects, according to the release.

"Our people do not want to wait 20 or 30 more years for water. They have told us that they want water to their homes and their communities, and we are here to see how the federal government can channel more federal funds to help construct the projects," Tsosie said in the release.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.