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Salazar Signs Decision on Navajo-Gallup Water Supply

WASHINGTON, DC, October 2, 2009 (ENS) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined New Mexico’s congressional delegation to advance a vital water supply project that will provide clean, safe and reliable water to a quarter of a million people in the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the city of Gallup, New Mexico.

The action clears the way for resolving the Navajo Nation’s long-standing water rights claims in the state, the subject of litigation for 30 years.

Joining U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Salazar signed the Record of Decision for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project Planning Report and Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The project will be designed to serve a future population of about 250,000 people by the year 2040 through annual diversions of water from the San Juan River. Existing groundwater supplies are dwindling, have limited capacity, and are of poor quality.

San Juan River in New Mexico near the Navajo Dam, which forms the state’s second largest lake (Photo credit unknown)

Today, more than 40 percent of Navajo households rely on water hauling to meet daily water needs. The City of Gallup’s groundwater levels have dropped by approximately 200 feet over the past 10 years and the supply is not expected to meet current water demands within the decade.

The Jicarilla Apache people are currently not able to live and work outside the Town of Dulce on the reservation because of a lack of water supply.

“This will allow us to move forward in helping empower and improve Native American communities,” said Salazar. “This project addresses an unfulfilled promise to support the Navajo people by providing a long-term sustainable water supply that will reduce the need for hauling water, improve health conditions on the Reservation, and provide the foundation for future economic development activity in northwestern New Mexico.”

By providing certainty for future water supplies, the project is a key to the Navajo Nation-San Juan River Basin Water Rights Settlement, the secretary said.

Senator Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and sponsored the water settlement legislation in the Senate, said, “Today’s action means we can move ahead with this important pipeline project, finally bringing water to thousands of Navajos who are currently not served and bringing water certainty to Gallup.”

Senator Udall said, “This settlement addresses the basic need for water and sanitation that I believe is the right of every individual, and which is long overdue in this region of New Mexico.

“The agreement that led to this settlement is the culmination of years of work by many parties,” said Udall. “Today we celebrate the completion of the final EIS for the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project, the next important step in providing a dependable water supply for the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the city of Gallup.”

“Water availability is a critical issue in New Mexico,” Congressman Lujan said. “Many tribal communities on the Navajo Nation do not have access to a relievable water supply, and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will provide many of these communities with stable and reliable access to water.”

The project will provide a reliable municipal and industrial water supply to the eastern section of the Navajo Nation, southwestern part of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the city of Gallup via annual diversions of 37,376 acre-feet of water from the San Juan River.

The construction cost, based on a 2007 cost estimate, is $864,000,000. The project includes 260 miles of pipeline, 24 pumping plants, and two water treatment plants.

The legal authority for the solution to the water rights issue was laid by the enactment of Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 back in March. The legislation contains the authorization for the construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

This legislation also settles certain water rights between the Navajo Nation and the State of New Mexico and clarifies the administration of Navajo Lake reservoir releases by affirming water quantities and distribution for projects such as the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project.

Navajo Nation water rights attorney Stanley Pollack, who has worked on Navajo water rights issues for 23 years, said the Nation has waited for this since April 19, 2005, when the State of New Mexico signed the San Juan River Settlement Agreement.

The next step is to have Congress appropriate funding to construct the Navajo-Gallup water pipeline.

The Bureau of Reclamation is proceeding with environmental and cultural resource surveys, contract negotiations, design data collection, and design of facilities, and plans to begin construction of the project in 2012, subject to appropriations.

“The proposed project, which will meet the needs of about 250,000 people in these communities by the year 2040, is a key to ending 30 years of litigation over the Navajo Nation’s water rights claims,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. “It will allow these communities to plan for their future with a secure water supply in hand.”

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