Bringing water to the people: Officials celebrate water delivery project on Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

DZILTH-NA-O-DITH-HLE — New Mexico state engineer Mike Hamman raised a reusable water bottle into the air then asked if the water inside came from the Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant, a facility near here that filters and treats San Juan River water before it is piped to communities on the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation.

After getting the answer yes from the audience, Hamman said, "this stuff tastes good folks."

The question posed by Hamman might seem odd but residents in this portion of the Navajo Nation might ask the same now that communities here are receiving river water for the first time because of the Cutter Lateral.

The lateral is one of two water transmission systems under the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and delivers water to the chapters of Torreon, Ojo Encino, Counselor, Pueblo Pintado, Whitehorse Lake, Nageezi, Huerfano and Tiis Tsoh Sikaad and the southwestern part of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

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Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., visits with Jicarilla Apache tribal members on June 9 at the event to commemorate the Cutter Lateral section of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

On June 9, officials from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Navajo Nation, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Jicarilla Apache Nation and New Mexico celebrated the completion of testing and monitoring of the lateral and the water treatment plant.

Before serving as the assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Tanya Trujillo was a water lawyer in New Mexico and served on the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

Her role at the Interior Department includes overseeing the Bureau of Reclamation, which managed construction of the Cutter Lateral.

Leonard Tsosie, executive assistant with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, speaks on June 9 about the role New Mexico officials had in funding the Cutter Lateral in the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation.

Addressing the audience, Trujillo said her work in the state included the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and visiting homes on the Navajo Nation, where she saw how the lack of reliable water sources impact tribal members.

Trujillo said she remembers visiting an elderly Navajo couple who told her that because their home lacked running water, their grandchildren did not want to visit.

"It has always been very important to remember the people of the Navajo Nation that I have met over the years, and have worked personally with, to remember that our goal is to bring real water to real people in real time," she said. "This project today is a prime example of how we have been able to do that."

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Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde, center, shares a handshake with Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel E. Tso on June 9 at the event to commemorate the Cutter Lateral.

Several speakers at the event credited engineer Andrew Robertson in generating attention among New Mexico lawmakers to support developing a clean water supply system in the region.

Samuel Sage, community services coordinator of Counselor Chapter, said Robertson understood the need for eastern Navajo chapters to have a reliable water resource and the eight chapters united to bring the system into existence.

The chapters helped lead the way by contributing money and securing right-of-way consent from allottees and grazing permittees for the trunk line's path, Sage explained.

He added that they did this to show federal, state and tribal government officials their commitment in securing water for residents.

"This is a great day for all the chapters involved and for eastern Navajo," he said.

The event included a ceremony to transfer operation, maintenance and replacement responsibilities of the system from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Navajo Nation and NTUA.

Members of the Huerfano Chapter Veterans Color Guard ready for the presentation of colors on June 9 at the event to commemorate the Cutter Lateral and its water treatment plant near Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle.

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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