NAPI tour spotlights need for canal funding

Irrigation project remains incomplete despite having been approved by Congress in 1962

Noel Lyn Smith
NAPI Chief Executive Officer Wilton Charley talks about starting an organic farming operation Tuesday at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry headquarters south of Farmington.
  • The canals and laterals deliver water from Navajo Lake to the 80,000-acre farm south of Farmington.
  • NAPI manages funding for the operation and maintenance of the NIIP through a BIA contract.
  • Tribal lawmakers are pushing for funding to complete the NIIP and for its operations and maintenance.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Agricultural Products Industry officials are reaching out to members of the Navajo Nation Council to help secure federal funding to complete construction of the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project.

The NIIP is a system of canals and laterals delivering water from Navajo Lake to the 80,000-acre farm located south of Farmington.

Although the irrigation project was approved by Congress in 1962, it remains incomplete, NAPI CEO Wilton Charley said.

"The project is not complete. We're not using the full allocated water that was promise to Navajo," Charley said.

Through a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, NAPI manages funding for the operation and maintenance of the NIIP, but the cost of repairs to the aging system is more than the allocated amount, Charley said.

Since the late 1990s, the annual amount has been about $4 million, he said.

As part of the effort to generate support from the tribal council, NAPI officials today showed Speaker LoRenzo Bates and Delegates Kee Allen Begay Jr., Benjamin Bennett, Tom Chee, Davis Filfred and Otto Tso areas that are in need of repairs and aging equipment that needs replacing.

Among the areas of concern is a portion of concrete that comprises a canal that runs between two sections of the farm.

Donnie Lapahie, civil works supervisor for operations and maintenance, said the repair process would include removing damaged concrete, then taking out the loose dirt and replacing it with new dirt that would be compacted before new concrete is poured. It would cost approximately $300,000 to repair the breached section, he said.

Lionel Haskie, operations and maintenance manager, explained that the breach can cause the canal to release 10 to 15 percent of the water that flows through it each year. Haskie added that another section of the canal was repaired by using salvaged concrete panels.

Navajo Agricultural Products Industry Operations and Maintenance Manger Lionel Haskie illustrates delivery of water to the NAPI farmlands Tuesday during a tour of the organization's facilities south of Farmington.

"We are doing a little bit more of those kinds of jobs to prevent areas like this from continuing," Haskie said.

At the Kutz Pumping Plant, Art Thomas, mechanical supervisor for operations and maintenance, said the facility continues to use pumps installed in the 1970s to push water uphill.

"We do pull some of these valves and get them reconditioned," Thomas said. "They run about $12,000. The valve system is the original one. We never changed it."

At the request of the NAPI Board of Directors, tribal lawmakers passed a bill on April 13 to re-establish a subcommittee that would advocate for funding to complete the NIIP and for its operations and maintenance.

With the subcommittee re-established, now is the time to sit with federal leaders and talk about funding, Charley said.

Delegate Begay, who is a subcommittee member, along with Bates and Bennett, said he would like to know the next step in the process because the NIIP has been neglected long enough.

"I am interested," Begay said.

From left, Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Delegate Tom Chee and Kee Allen Begay review damages to an irrigation canal Tuesday at the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry farm south of Farmington.

Chee said the unfinished system is another example of unfulfilled promises by the federal government.

Although the NIIP remains incomplete, it is not stopping the tribal enterprise from seeking new projects. NAPI has broken ground in its southern area for organic farming using a drip line system to grow potatoes, melons, squash and onions.

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