Pipelines, pumps help restore irrigation to Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

GADII'AHI — A pair of pipelines and pumps are helping deliver San Juan River water to the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter so farmers there can resume using the water for crop irrigation.

The chapter stopped irrigating crops with river water after the Cudei Irrigation canal was closed after tribal officials issued water-use restrictions for the portion of the river that flows through the nation after toxic wastewater was released from the Gold King Mine last month.

Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy said during normal operation, the Cudei canal receives river water through a pipeline or siphon that runs under the river from the Hogback Irrigation canal.

The Hogback canal also delivers river water to the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K'aan chapters, which have opposed resuming the operation of the irrigation system.

The restoration of irrigation service to the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter started after Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye directed the tribe's Department of Water Resources to pump river water into the Cudei canal Sept. 4, according to a press release from his office.

Begaye's decision was issued after chapter members passed a resolution Aug. 28 that requested and supported lifting the declaration of emergency and allowing river water to be released into the canal for crop irrigation.

Saggboy said service was scheduled to start Wednesday afternoon, and department personnel worked with Rain for Rent, which is renting the pipelines and pumps to the tribe, to install the equipment during the weekend.

"The only option is to do this, to pump water directly from the river into the pipeline so we can get water to the farms down here in Gadii'ahi," Saggboy said.

He added that the Cudei canal used to have a diversion, but it was removed several years ago due to concerns about its effect on fish migration.

Once in operation, the two pumps will push 5,000 gallons of water per minute through the half mile of pipelines.

Saggboy said the current plan is to have the system operate until the end of October, and the department will monitor usage to determine delivery.

"We'll see how it goes," he said.

Gadii'ahi-Tokoi is the fourth chapter to have irrigation service restored.

On Aug. 28, flushing started on the Fruitland Irrigation canal, which delivers river water to the Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland chapters.

On Tuesday, the Navajo Nation Council's Resources and Development Committee passed legislation in support of releasing San Juan River water to irrigate crops and water livestock in the Northern Agency.

The bill also directs the tribe's Division of Natural Resources and the Navajo Nation EPA to assist in reopening the irrigation systems, as well as requesting assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies to reopen and flush the systems.

The measure states the committee is aware that not all farmers want the systems open and "believes it is up to the farmers to decide for themselves whether the irrigation water should be turned on to their farms."

The committee serves as the final authority for the legislation.

Earlier in the week, President Begaye requested that the Upper Animas Mining District be listed as a federal Superfund site on the National Priorities List in a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, according to a press release from the president's office.

The designation would provide funding and technical assistance to address the additional threats from abandoned mine sites within the district, the president wrote.

"The damage caused by the Upper Animas Mining District has gone on far too long, and the health and well-being of our people cannot endure a repeat of the GKM (Gold King Mine) spill. Please do the right thing for us downstream communities," Begaye wrote.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.