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

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – There is a plan in the works to get water into hundreds of thousands of homes on the Navajo Nation. 

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

“In the last 10 years, water levels have dropped almost 200 feet. So, oftentimes, families depend on hauling water for their family’s daily needs,” said Shannon Jackson, a PNM spokesperson. 

That’s the case for more than 40% of Navajo Nation households. Something the Bureau of Reclamation hopes to change with the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, and some help from PNM. 

“It doesn’t make immediate sense why an electricity company is talking about water projects, right?” said Jackson.  

But PNM just handed over control of the water conveyance system from its shut down San Juan Generating Station. This will save federal project managers $70 million from having to build their own water-intake facilities, a diversion channel and a pumping station on the San Juan River.

“And that’s going to be serving about 250,000 people once this project is done,” Jackson said. 

But that will be a while.

A rep with the Bureau of Reclamation says they were set to complete their original water-intake plan next year until PNM offered up the San Juan Power Plant.

Making the switch – even though they believe it’s the better option – will push the timeline out for folks to get water to 2028 or even 2029.

“There’s a five-year delay in receipt of surface water to our community. And so that’s going to have, that’s going to have an impact on our ability to keep up with water demand, because we have to drill new wells, and they cost about $6 million apiece,” said Maryann Ustick, a Gallup city manager.

The San Juan Generating Station is only a part of this large federal project which reps predict will cost nearly $2 billion and eventually serve the City of Gallup, the Navajo Nation and the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

The Bureau of Reclamation rep KOB 4 spoke with went on to explain how much more operational flexibility this already existing system will provide in addition to 20 days of water storage for the project that it wouldn’t initially have.