To'hajiilee water pipeline on track - Albuquerque Journal

To’hajiilee water pipeline on track

Corroded pipes and rust-colored water are common in the Navajo community of To’Hajiilee west of Albuquerque. Engineers told state lawmakers on Monday that a pipeline to connect the community to the city’s water supply is on track. (Anthony Jackson/Albuquerque Journal File)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A plastic bottle filled with rust-colored water at his side, George Mihalik holds up a water pipe segment from To'hajiilee.

The worn metal looks to be a few decades old.

But it was only used for about 18 months in the Navajo Nation satellite community of 2,000 people west of Albuquerque.

“The water is that corrosive,” said Mihalik, a project engineer with Souder, Miller & Associates. “It smells like rotten eggs.”

The engineering firm told state lawmakers at Monday's Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting that a To'hajiilee water pipeline project is on track.

Only one of the community's six wells works. But the water quality and quantity is subpar.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will build a 7-mile waterline connecting To'hajiilee to the city water system.

Construction is expected to start later this summer, and could take a year to 18 months.

A $7.7 million grant and loan package from the state Water Trust Board is funding the project.

Water supply will come from the San Juan-Chama Project, which diverts Colorado River Basin water into the Rio Grande.

The Navajo Nation will lease San Juan-Chama water rights from the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

To prepare for pipeline connections, the engineering firm replaced most of the community's distribution system with PVC pipe.

“That system is in great shape,” Mihalik said. “We may still update some water meters to meet the water authority standards.”

The Navajo government has committed $4 million to the project's capital costs, right-of-way access and water rights leases.

“The Navajo Nation is not getting a free ride,” said engineer Andrew Robertson.

That money will also allow the chapter to avoid “rate shock” from the new water supply, Robertson said, by implementing small water bill increases over the next decade.

Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, commended local governments and advocates that pushed for easement agreements with private landowners and pipeline project funding.

“It wasn't easy, and we're not done yet,” Shendo said. “But I'm glad we were able to figure this out to bring clean water to these families.”

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