A much bigger pipe

by Will Sands

he Animas-La Plata project’s little brother has broken ground downstream. Construction is currently under way on the Navajo Nation Municipal Pipeline, a new water supply for impoverished areas of the Diné Nation, southwest of Farmington. In an unusual twist, the $58-million project falls under the umbrella of A-LP, the $500 million reservoir and pumping plant taking shape southwest of downtown Durango.

The 28.4-mile-long pipeline will link the Farmington water treatment plant and the City of Shiprock on the reservation. Delivering 4,600 acre-feet of water a year, the pipe will provide potable water for the Shiprock, Hogback, Nenahnezad and Upper Fruitland chapters of the reservation.

At the groundbreaking, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. commended the “project partners” – the Bureau of Reclamation, the Animas-La Plata Project and the City of Farmington. “This is a very tangible means of telling the world that we’re working together,” President Shirley said. “There are families out there that have been hauling water for decades. Man, I’ll tell you, they’re hurting. Now, finally, they’ll have water in their homes.”

The pipeline is expected to quadruple the drinking water supply in Navajo chapters, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate GloJean Todacheene was on hand to emphasize the need. She noted that her family used to rely on a spring in a wash for their drinking supply, and that water would have to be strained through flour sacks in order to remove sediment. Todacheene added that she did not take her first shower until she went to boarding school. A major goal for the Navajo people is to have their children return to the reservation, she noted. The pipeline and the opportunities it will bring will help make that possible.

Interestingly, the key to this new water supply is in Durango and not on the Navajo Nation. The Animas-La Plata project’s reservoir and pumping plant, which fulfills 20-year-old water rights settlements of both the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, also has a Navajo component, and the pipeline will be funded with A-LP dollars.

At the groundbreaking, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson promised an uninterrupted

stream of funding and committed to seeing the project through to its final completion. “The Bureau of Reclamation is committed to finishing this project, and we are going to seek the funding to get this project completed on schedule and on budget,” he said at the groundbreaking.

He also claimed that the pipeline would not be possible without the construction going on in Durango. “We can’t deliver water to the Navajo Nation if we don’t have that

dam and pumping station upstream,” Commission Johnson said. “This project is about the future, children and making the next generation better off.”

However, a longtime A-LP opponent, Taxpayers for the Animas River, disputed this claim. The connections between the pipeline and Lake Nighthorse – the reservoir in Durango’s Ridges Basin – are exclusively financial, according to the group’s spokesman, Michael Black.

Black went back in time to a date when the Doubletree Hotel was the Red Lion

Inn and negotiations to build the controversial water project in Durango were heated. At that session, the then-president of the Navajo Nation explained that the tribe could not support the water rights settlement, according to Black. After much wrangling, the Navajo Nation Municipal Pipeline was folded into A-LP in exchange for Navajo support, he said.

“This pipeline has nothing to do with A-LP,” he said. “It was grafted on to the project to buy the political support of the Navajo tribe when it refused to support

the project.”

And as the pipeline started to go in the ground, Shirley offered his thanks to A-LP and the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes for making it possible.

“This pipeline would not have been possible without the support of our Ute neighbors to recognize it as a project component of the Animas-La Plata Project,” he said.