NAPI faces possible losses due to broken siphon

If broken siphon is not repaired by mid-June, NAPI faces $17.5 million loss in revenue

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — Navajo Agricultural Products Industry could face a $17.5 million loss in revenue if repairs to a siphon that broke almost two weeks ago are not completed by mid-June, officials said today.

NAPI CEO Wilton Charley said today that work continues to repair a 40-foot section of the water delivery system to resume moving water to the 80,000-acre farm south of Farmington.

Repairs on a siphon at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry south of Farmington continue on Wednesday.

"We are working toward June 11 as the estimated completion date. That date is when we will be filling the entire water delivery system," Charley said.

But if that date is moved back, it would "exponentially impact" the projected revenue loss, he said.

Crews today continued to work at the site of the broken siphon near Kutz Wash in a Bureau of Land Management area east of U.S. Highway 550.

Charley said 49 employees have been placed on furlough, and more than 100 employees will work reduced schedules for the next two and half weeks.

A dry irrigation ditch just west of a ruptured siphon is pictured Wednesday at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry's headquarters south of Farmington. Water from the irrigation ditch supplies water to NAPI farmlands.

NAPI was notified about the breach on May 13 and immediately closed the section of gates near the break, he said.

Charley said the U.S. Department of the Interior is completing a forensic analysis to determine the cause of the breach, and NAPI has sent samples of the pipe to the department’s technical center in Denver for examination.

The 18 siphons in the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project that deliver water to the farm are the responsibility of the Interior Department, which is researching its records to see when the last maintenance check was completed on the broken section, he added.

At right, Darryl Multine, chief financial officer for Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, listens as Albert Etcitty, the interim chief of operations at NAPI, speaks on Wednesday at a press conference at the tribal enterprise's headquarters south of Farmington.

"Right now, our focus is to repair the siphon and get it back into operation," he said, adding talks will continue with tribal and Interior Department officials to address long-term maintenance and evaluation of the decades-old infrastructure.

Since the break, the only water available to the farm has been what was in the canal before service stopped. The stored water could last until early next week, Charley said.

It will cost an estimated $1.6 million to replace the damaged pipe. Because of the pipe's size, it has to be fabricated and delivered from a company in Yuma, Ariz.

"This is a custom-fabricated pipe, and there’s only a few manufacturers that were able to meet our needs and the turnaround time that we were expecting them to meet," Charley said.

Jeremy Simpson, safety manager at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, talks on Wednesday about repairs to a siphon at the tribal enterprise's headquarters south of Farmington.

NAPI is working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to obtain clearance for the pipe to be delivered this week, he said.

So far this season, NAPI has planted 400 acres of alfalfa, 10,000 acres of corn, 4,900 acres of wheat and 1,300 acres of potatoes.

"Right now, we are watering our priority fields — mainly our potatoes — to keep our potato crop in production. So we are on a limited schedule, and we are rationing what available storage we have in the system," he said, adding that NAPI anticipates a loss in yield and quality for its crops.

Albert Etcitty, the interim chief of operations, said crops grown at NAPI are used by companies across the nation and around the world.

Potatoes are used by Frito-Lay, alfalfa is shipped to Japan, corn is supplied to the Nestlé Purina plant in Flagstaff, Ariz., and pinto beans are sold in Walmart, Etcitty said.

At right, Jeremy Simpson, safety manager with Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, leads a tour at the site where repair work on a siphon continues on Wednesday.

Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc. grows pumpkins and popping corn on land leased from NAPI. Company co-owner John Hamby said it is unknown if the 1,000 acres of pumpkins that were planted before the siphon break will survive until water is restored. In addition, approximately 3,800 acres of popping corn was planted.

For now, the water that is allocated to the business is being used to water some of the pumpkin fields, he said.

Hamby said the pumpkins are grown for decoration purposes during Halloween, so it would be difficult to push back the harvest season. Another issue is the pumpkins could rot during shipment if not fully developed or they could be susceptible to frost if they are harvested late.

From left, Albert Etcitty, interim chief of operations for Navajo Agricultural Products Industry; Darryl Multine, NAPI's chief financial officer; and NAPI CEO Wilton Charley participate in a press conference Wednesday at the NAPI headquarters south of Farmington.

While it is too early for the pumpkin business to estimate potential losses, Hamby said more than $2 million has been invested in seed and fertilizer for the planted crops.

The company laid off approximately 15 employees, he said.

“If water doesn’t come back on, there’ll be no work,” Hamby said.

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