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Laguna Pueblo breaks ground on $30 million water system

Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie, left, looks at a display of old broken water pipes with Jonathan Adelstein, center, and Terry Brunner, right, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The pueblo and the federal agency are teaming up to fund a new municipal water system for the rural community west of Albuquerque.
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LAGUNA PUEBLO – Where other kids are used to getting time off for “snow days,” at Laguna Pueblo it’s sometimes “water days” when the pipes serving the school break.

At the pueblo west of Albuquerque, a rickety municipal water system prone to frequent main breaks has made residents accustomed to losing their water supply.

“We wait,” Laguna Gov. Richard Luarkie said Monday. For Luarkie, it happened last weekend, when a main up the street from his house broke and he and his neighbors were without water for three hours.

A community where students cannot go to school because the water line is broken is unacceptable in 21st century America, said Jonathan Adelstein, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

Adelstein and Luarkie, along with a host of other dignitaries, were at Laguna on Monday for the groundbreaking of a project aimed at ending “water days,” a $30 million water system rehabilitation project that will bring new pipe to the rural Native American community of 4,400.Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie, left, looks at a display of old broken water pipes with Jonathan Adelstein, center, and Terry Brunner, right, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The pueblo and the federal agency are teaming up to fund a new municipal water system for the rural community west of Albuquerque.

Adelstein’s agency contributed a $10 million grant for the work from a fund set up for rural Native American water projects by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. The USDA also is providing a $16 million loan to help defray the cost of the project.

Most of Laguna’s supply comes from pumping groundwater. In addition to the inconvenience and uncertainty caused by water main breaks, the leaky system loses a lot of water, said Jim Hooper, chief of operations for the pueblo’s utility.

By reducing those water losses, the project will help ensure the long-term sustainability of Laguna’s water supply, Hooper said.

Monday’s festivities included a line of dignitaries digging shovels into dirt for the traditional groundbreaking photograph, followed by lunch. Actual work on the project begins this summer.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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