Tribal, state, federal officials sign MOU as part of complex Navajo-Gallup water project

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Work continues on a section of the San Juan Lateral of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on March 30.

FARMINGTON — A project designed to provide clean drinking water to thousands of people living on tribal lands took a big step forward this month.

Tribal, state and federal officials have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that clarifies regulatory roles and responsibilities, including those for drinking water regulations, for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

"Drinking water jurisdiction across northwest New Mexico is incredibly complex, involving a mix of federal, state, tribal and private entities. The MOU clarifies government oversight and regulatory roles and responsibilities of the parties involved," a joint press release from several agencies stated.

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The project consists of approximately 280 miles of pipeline, pumping plants and two water treatment plants. When completed in 2027 it will deliver water from the San Juan River Basin to Gallup, the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and to 43 chapters on the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation, New Mexico Environment Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Regions 6 and 9 announced the memorandum of understanding on April 7. The project is being completed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Pipe trench excavation is pictured on April 6 in Burnham for a section of the San Juan Lateral of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

The 15-page document was signed on various dates in March and April by officials, who commented in the joint press release about its implementation.

"With the signing of this MOU, we as current leaders, are moving forward together on the path to providing clean drinking water to thousands of Navajo people. Many families will soon have access to running water in their homes thanks to the work being done with our state and federal partners," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.

The water supply project is a major component of the settlement agreement between the Navajo Nation and the State of New Mexico for the use of waters in the San Juan River Basin in the northwest part of the state.

NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the memorandum of understanding "respects the jurisdiction" of each agency and its purpose adds to "the success of water delivery throughout this massive project."

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Workers build an access road to construct two pumping plants on the San Juan Lateral of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project in Sheep Springs.

"Public health agencies can rarely solve complex problems alone," Kenney said.

The collaboration between the government entities advances the project and assures the delivery of a safe and sustainable water supply, said Deborah Jordan, acting regional administrator for the EPA's Region 9.

Construction of the project was authorized in a federal measure passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

The Cutter Lateral, one of two transmission pipelines, was completed last year and began delivering potable water in October to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority customers in the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Construction continues on the San Juan Lateral in Burnham, Newcomb, Sheep Springs and Naschitti.

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

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