Imagine having to rely on hand-pumped wells, windmills, earth dams and snowdrifts to gather enough water — untreated at that — to drink, cook, bathe, water livestock.
Such has been the stark reality for many indigenous New Mexicans living in the northwest corner of the state, though that is changing thanks to a major water infrastructure project that got rolling during the Obama administration and has recently benefited from the $1 trillion infrastructure deal Congress passed last year.
The Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday it awarded a $73 million contract for two pumping plants on the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, near the Navajo community of Sanostee in San Juan County. They will be part of a network of pipelines and pumping stations to deliver treated water from the San Juan River to chapters on the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache reservation and Gallup.
Ground water levels for the city of Gallup have dropped approximately 200 feet over the past 10 years, and more than 40% of Navajo Nation households rely on hauling water to meet their daily needs, according to the bureau. Inadequate water supply also impacts the ability of the Jicarilla Apache people to live and work outside the reservation town of Dulce, N.M.
The project was authorized for construction by the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 as a major component of the Navajo Nation San Juan River Basin Water Rights Settlement in New Mexico. It’s expected to be completed by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2027 with a final price tag near $1 billion.
It is shocking that in 2022 people in our state still lack access to clean water, and will for the next five long years. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it is that access to clean water is essential for everyone’s health.
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.