Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A project to pipe water from Albuquerque to the Navajo community of To’hajiilee is on hold again, as partners work out details of a state funding package.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority trucked emergency water Tuesday to the community about 30 miles west of the city.
A deteriorating pipe segment for the village’s one functioning water well had caused a temporary water service disruption, said George Mihalik, a senior project engineer with Souder, Miller & Associates, the company working on the conveyance project.
“The water is so corrosive that it eats up all the metal,” Mihalik said.
ABCWUA has delivered tankers to To’hajiilee at least a dozen times in the past 18 months because of system failures.
“They have six wells that we’ve studied, and only one is kind of usable,” Mihalik said. “Wells just keep failing, and drilling more wells is just not a long-term solution. I think everyone’s aware that the water’s very poor-quality as well.”
Construction on a 7.5-mile transmission line from water authority tanks to To’hajiilee will cost $8 million.
The utility’s application to the state Water Trust Board sought $4.96 million for project construction.
The state board awarded about $7.7 million total, including a $4.6 million grant and $3 million loan.
But the loan component is “problematic,” water authority spokesman David Morris said.
“It wouldn’t be the water authority repaying the loan, it would be To’hajiilee,” Morris said. “The community would not be well-positioned to repay that because they’ll have to spread that out over the households in the community.”
Jamie Henio, the Navajo Nation Council delegate who represents the 2,000 residents, said they “desperately need a long-term reliable water supply.”
“Without this important water pipeline project, To’hajiilee’s existing water wells will continue to fail after years of band-aid fixes,” Henio said in a statement.
The Navajo Nation government has spent about $4 million on the project.
Morris said the money was directed to “easements and some initial engineering and planning work.”
“And of course their agreement with WALH required a significant investment,” he said.
In November, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the Navajo Nation and water authority reached an agreement for a property easement to build the pipeline.
Parties did not disclose terms of the deal, which followed two years of negotiations.
The water authority joined the Navajo Department of Water Resources and the To’hajiilee Chapter in sending a letter to the New Mexico Finance Authority in late May asking for a reconfiguration of the funding award.
Agencies requested that the NMFA consider “principal forgiveness of the loan component based on the Navajo Nation’s matching funds” of $4 million.
The water authority estimates that pipeline construction, which Morris said is “shovel ready,” will take four to six months once funding issues are resolved.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.