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Study focuses on water options for Navajo farms

Noel Lyn Smith
nsmith@daily-times.com
Gilbert Harrison Sr., San Juan River Farm Board president and farm board member for the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter, talks with Joe Ben Jr., a Shiprock Chapter House Farm Board member Tuesday during a meeting between tribal and federal official at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter house.

GADII'AHI — Tribal and federal officials talked today about conducting a feasibility study that would develop contingency plans for delivering water to farms on the Navajo Nation.

Pat Page, deputy construction engineer for Four Corners Construction for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the goal is to develop a range of alternatives for water delivery in case another situation like the Gold King Mine spill restricts irrigation services.

Tribal officials instituted ed water-use restrictions after the Aug. 5 spill released more than 3 million of gallons of heavy metals-laden wastewater into the Animas River and later the San Juan River, which flows through the reservation.

In response, the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K'aan chapters passed resolutions to keep the Hogback Irrigation canal closed after the spill. The Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter resumed irrigation activities after the tribe installed pipelines and water pipes to deliver river water.

Joe Ben Jr., the Farm Board member for Shiprock Chapter talks Tuesday duringa  meeting between tribal and federal officials at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter House.

The idea to develop a feasibility study started in November after farm board members submitted a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor. The letter also requested financial assistance to complete the study.

Support for the study will be included in the memorandum of understanding Connor and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye are expected to sign next week in Shiprock.

During today's meeting at the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter house, ideas were divided and listed under “new infrastructure” and “modify existing infrastructure” headers.

The suggestions listed under "new infrastructure" include developing water storage to cover up to six months of service and transporting water from the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project to fill a reservoir.

Gilbert Harrison Sr., the farm board member for the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter, said farmers hope the discussion and feasibility study result in action by federal and tribal officials. He said the six chapters along the river depend on the water for farming activities, and what happens upstream continues to impact farms.

Bureau of Reclamation, Four Corners Construction Office construction engineer Pat Page speaks duringa  meeting between federal and Navajo Nation officials Tuesday at the Gadii'ah Chapter House

Shiprock Chapter Farm Board Member Joe Ben Jr. said the total acres of farmland in Shiprock comprises more than half of the total acres of farms on the Navajo Nation, so any proposed amount of water provided to the chapters under the plan must be examined.

He added the after effects of the mine spill still worry a number of Shiprock farmers, and with that in mind, developing an alternative water source is an idea that should also be examined.

"We cannot have that same source to make a contingency plan. …The source must be fixed," Ben said.

Doug Dockter, assistant construction engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the document remains in the early stages but the end product will be determined and owed by the group.

"This document, I think, will help open doors in the future and help find funding sources," Dockter said.

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