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Project will bring San Juan River water to communities throughout Navajo Nation


SANOSTEE — As construction continues on a pipeline that will deliver San Juan River water to communities across the Navajo Nation, chapter officials were encouraged today to develop plans for utilizing the water.

Several officials from chapters that will be connected to the San Juan Lateral of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project received an update about the $1.13 billion project at a public hearing today in the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Veteran Memorial Building in Sanostee.

Federal officials authorized construction of the 280-mile pipeline, which also will serve the southwest portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the city of Gallup, and divert 37,376 acre-feet of water annually from the river.

Pat Page, deputy construction engineer for Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said when the project is completed and operational in 2024, it will serve an area the size of New Jersey.

Aside from delivering water to residences that lack that service, it is also seen as a catalyst for economic development on the reservation, project officials said.

"This is not about replacing the water supply that you have now," Page said. "It's about expanding your water supply and expanding your opportunities that you have in your communities."

Construction continues north of Gallup, but next year, the bureau expects to complete construction in that area, as well as award a contract for construction of the lateral to serve Window Rock, Ariz.

The bureau also will award a contract in a few weeks to build a portion of pipeline from Twin Lakes to Naschitti, Page said.

"It's coming — don't let it pass you by," he said.

Among those listening to the presentation was Newcomb Chapter manager Edison Jim, who asked about employment opportunities and the economic impact that construction will have on chapters located along U.S. Highway 491.

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Andrew Robertson, a project engineer with Souder, Miller and Associates, said the short-term economic impact would be the number of jobs available during construction, which could reach as high as 650.

Contractors are informed by the tribal government to adhere to the Navajo Preference in Employment Act, Robertson added.

But the long-term effect would depend on how communities facilitate the use of the water, including utilizing it for economic development, he said.

That concept will be up to each chapter, Robertson said adding he has heard some chapters are developing plans to build hotels and laundromats.

Tsé 'íí'áhí Chapter President Johnny Johnson was among those who encouraged chapter officials to start planning, and he commended those who already are developing ideas.

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Johnson said his chapter has identified 44 homes in need of water lines, and a project to address the problem is in the planning stage.

Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter resident Matthew Blackhat said he was curious about the project and views it as beneficial for residents who do not have running water.

Blackhat also wanted to know if there is a plan in place to stop delivery if a situation like the Gold King Mine spill happens.

Page, the deputy construction engineer, said the bureau is examining ways to handle situations like water contamination, including the possibility of pretreatment water storage.

Alonzo Cohoe, president of the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter Community Land Use Planning Committee, said the public hearing was organized to inform residents and officials from the impacted chapters.

"If we don't have water, we don't have homes," Cohoe said adding planning for the future is vital for residents.

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

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