NAPI leaders tell Sen. Ben Ray Luján more funding needed for maintenance costs

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Agricultural Products Industry leaders advocated for more federal funding to maintain the farm's irrigation system during a visit by U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján.

The leadership, along with Navajo Nation government and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials, met face to face with the Democratic senator on July 1 at the farming operation south of Farmington.

NAPI Board Chairman Lawrence Platero explained that the purpose for meeting was to discuss the need to increase annual funding for maintaining the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project.

"We've been trying to get this going, to increase funding for many years," Platero said.

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Lionel Haskie, operations and maintenance manager at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, explains the farm's irrigation system during a tour on July 1 at the farming operation's headquarters south of Farmington.

The NIIP is federally owned but maintained and operated by NAPI through a 638 contact. Through its system of canals and laterals, it delivers water from Navajo Lake to the 80,000-acre farm.

Lionel Haskie, operations and maintenance manager at NAPI, told Luján that NAPI does not receive enough federal funding to cover repairs and upkeep on the system.

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"Every year, we get operations and maintenance funding that is low and not as high to serve the entire system, so a lot of maintenance gets deferred," Haskie said.

Because of this, a "major backlog" of maintenance projects exists – to the tune of $175 million, he said then added that many of the system's pumping plants, substations and conveyance systems built before 1985 are reaching the end of their service.

A section of the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, which delivers water from Navajo Lake to Navajo Agricultural Products Industry is seen on July 1. NAPI leaders advocated for more federal funding to maintain the irrigation system during a visit by U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján.

An example of deteriorating conditions on the NIIP was the breakage of a siphon in 2016 in the eastern area of the farm. That situation halted delivery of water for more than a month and caused NAPI to lose crops and revenue.

Under the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, 17 federally owned irrigation projects on tribal lands are eligible to receive a portion of $10 million allocated each year to address deferred maintenance needs.

NAPI is awarded $2.33 million annually from the WIIN Act but is requesting that amount increase to $35 million in fiscal year 2022.

Lester Tsosie, acting director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Navajo Region, center, shows U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján on July 1 a list of investment costs for the irrigation system at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry.

"We've always been challenged with not having enough operations and maintenance funding. With that being said, it's increased our maintenance, our capital costs for replacements to excessive amounts," Haskie said. "We're hoping this meeting will provide a lot more clarity and maybe more emphasis and support for the WIIN Act and increase those dollars."

While Luján did not say he would support NAPI's request, he said the meeting was important because Congress is discussing an appropriations package and an infrastructure package that focuses on roads, bridges, broadband and water projects.

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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