Existing facility has been in operation since 1970

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SHIPROCK — James Bitsilly Jr. understands the ins and outs of how the wastewater treatment plant operated by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority works.

As Bitsilly explained the components of filtering wastewater collected from residences and businesses in Shiprock on Friday, he also emphasized the need for upgrades.

"It's an efficient process but an old process," Bitsilly said.

The current sewage treatment plant went into operation in 1970, but with population growth, households converting away from septic tanks and replacement parts becoming obsolete, NTUA has been working to secure $26 million to build a new plant.

The financial aspect of that goal eased this month when NTUA was named one of four recipients in New Mexico to receive a portion of $35.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program.

The USDA loan and grant program provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal and storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas, including tribal lands.

NTUA will receive approximately $20.8 million in loans and $5.2 million in grants to build a new wastewater treatment plant in Shiprock.

Rex Kontz, deputy general manager for NTUA, said in addition to replacing an aging system, the new plant will meet the demand from infrastructure built because of the Navajo Nation Municipal Pipeline and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

"It has lived its life. It is time for it to be replaced," Kontz said about the current treatment plant.

Officials from the USDA are expected to visit early next year to formally present the award to NTUA, and the authority anticipates breaking ground on the new facility in 18 to 20 months, he said.

The funding awards, which include projects in Socorro, and in Doña Ana and San Miguel counties, were announced in a joint press release from Democratic U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both of New Mexico.

Both senators acknowledged the importance of funding such water and wastewater projects in rural and tribal communities.

"Improving water and wastewater infrastructure is essential to the health and prosperity of rural communities across New Mexico," Udall said. "Smart investments like these will increase economic activity, ensure access to clean, reliable water and safeguard the health of tens of thousands of New Mexicans in Shiprock, Garfield, East Pecos and Socorro."

Heinrich said the investments are essential for communities to have access to clean water and operable waste management systems.

"Not only do improvements in water infrastructure build a more sustainable future for generations to come, they also contribute to the overall health and economic well-being of everyone living in these communities," Heinrich said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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