New project expected to provide water to thousands of Navajo Nation homes

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A plan is in the works to bring water to hundreds of thousands of Navajo Nation homes.

It’s all part of a federal project that’s been in the works since 2009. Water supply has been a long time coming, and although there has been a lot of progress lately, the wait for that water is far from over.

“In the last 10 years, the water level has dropped nearly 200 feet. As a result, families often rely on water transportation to meet their family’s daily needs,” said Shannon Jackson, a PNM spokeswoman.

This is the case for more than 40% of Navajo Nation households. Something the Bureau of Reclamation wants to change with the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and some help from PNM.

“It doesn’t immediately make sense why an electric company would talk about water projects, does it?” Jackson said.

But PNM just handed over control of the water transportation system from its decommissioned San Juan Generating Station. This saves federal project managers $70 million from having to build their own water intake facilities, a diversion canal, and a pumping station on the San Juan River.

“And that will serve about 250,000 people once this project is complete,” Jackson said.

But that will still take a while.

A Bureau of Reclamation representative said they would complete their original water intake plan over the next year until PNM bid the San Juan power plant.

The switch — even if they believe it’s the better option — will push the timeline for people’s water supply to 2028 or even 2029.

“The preservation of surface water for our community has been delayed by five years. And that’s going to affect our ability to keep up with water demand, because we have to drill new wells, and that’s about $6 million each,” said Maryann Ustick, a Gallup city manager.

The San Juan Generating Station is just one part of this large federal project that officials predict will cost nearly $2 billion and ultimately serve the city of Gallup, the Navajo Nation and the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

The Bureau of Reclamation representative that KOB 4 spoke to went on to explain how much more operational flexibility this pre-existing system will provide in addition to the 20-day water storage for the project, which it did not originally have.

For related stories: Brianna Wilson

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