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Editorial: To’hajiilee water deal is a hard-fought win

Those seeking good news in dire times can look to To’hajiilee, where water woes appear to be near an end.

After more than two years of negotiations and eight months of a pandemic that have heightened the urgency for clean water in the village at the western edge of Bernalillo County, there’s a deal for an easement for a water pipeline to serve the roughly 2,000 residents of the Navajo Nation satellite community.

The agreement among the Navajo Nation, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings and Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will enable To’hajiilee to build a 7.3-mile line to the western-most tank in the ABCWUA system. The line will carry water owned by the tribe to To’hajiilee.

The situation is indeed dire, as over the years five of the village’s six wells have failed, and the remaining well produces such poor-quality water villagers travel 30 miles to Albuquerque to get bottled water for drinking and cooking. To’hajiilee had been able to reach easement agreements with two of three owners whose property the water line will traverse, but critics alleged WALH intentionally prolonged negotiations in search of a $2 million payday for what amounts to a $30,000 ditch.

Officials with WALH, a subsidiary of Barclays Bank that owns about 53,000 acres west of Albuquerque, worried the easement would diminish future water availability and devalue other parts of the property. That’s understandable considering WALH’s $30 million investment upgrading the area’s water system and its plans to develop large tracts for commercial purposes. But ensuring water is the utility’s job, and the line is destined for a utility ditch in use by PNM, not developable land.

It is unfortunate it took so long. During that time some county leaders threatened eminent domain, and a task force was formed that included a state senator, county commissioners from outside the district and representatives of the parties involved to break the deadlock. But finally, water is on the way.

Although terms of the deal are being kept confidential, everyone involved seems happy, particularly the water authority, which will bear no costs, and To’hajiilee Chapter President Mark Begay, who has fought this fight for years.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion, joy and happiness,” he said Friday.

Construction on the $8 million project – the Navajo Nation is picking up that tab – could begin by next summer, and the Navajos who have been living without what most of us take for granted know better than anyone it needs to be completed as soon as possible. This agreement should pave the way for that to happen.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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