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Startup automating water systems on Navajo ranches

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A small Cloudcroft startup is helping Navajo Nation ranches get a lot more bang for their production buck with a new solar-powered water system for rural areas.

Remote Well Solutions LLC will install its system this year on five Navajo ranches under a $1.25 million contract with the tribal government.

The system remotely monitors water levels in drinking tanks and automatically pumps and distributes water to keep storage units and watering bins filled across the ranch. That saves time and money for ranchers, who drive across vast areas to physically check on water tanks, while allowing cattle to spread out to more foraging zones since the system distributes water evenly throughout the ranch, said company founder and owner Mike Lisk.

“It’s a solar-powered controller that senses the amount of water in storage tanks from four to five miles away to distribute water to containers across the land,” Lisk said. “Ranchers today have plenty of forage, but it’s spread out across large areas, and they can only water cattle in one place, so the cattle can’t walk around to graze elsewhere.”

That’s an acute problem on the sprawling Navajo Nation, where water distribution often limits herds to one third as many cattle per section as typical ranches in New Mexico, according to an economic impact study by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, which has helped Lisk build his company.

The Navajo Department of Agriculture plans to install the system on 23 tribal ranches leased to Navajo ranchers, said Navajo Program Specialist Ferdinand Notah. It will replace inefficient and aging windmills, which only power one well in one spot where the cattle then tend to congregate.

“We have about 88 wells on those ranches,” Notah said. “We want to convert as many of them as possible to the solar system.”

It will cost about $250,000 per ranch to fully install, including remote monitoring and control systems, water lines, storage tanks and drinking bins. The Navajo government will seek federal and state funding to later expand installations to more of the 85 ranches currently under lease across the nation in New Mexico and Arizona, Notah said.

Remote Well Solutions already installed the system for $35,000 on one section of one of the first five ranches targeted for conversion this year. Once installed on all sections of that ranch, the system could potentially increase herd size from 22 head now to 125, Lisk said.

NMSU estimates the construction phase alone for the first five ranches will create about a dozen jobs with a $1.2 million economic impact. Once completed, the project could create more than 400 jobs with an annual impact of up to $36 million.

“There are construction impacts with most economic development projects, but this one will generate a lot more long-term revenue with very substantial, lasting economic impact,” said Arrowhead Program Director Kramer Winingham.

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