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Feds, tribal officials to break ground on massive Navajo-Gallup pipeline

WASHINGTON — Federal and tribal representatives will break ground Saturday morning on the first phase of the $1 billion Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which could eventually bring water to a quarter-million people.

The long-awaited project will deliver water to more than 43 Navajo chapters through a 280 mile-long pipeline and two water-treatment plants, said Barry Wirth, regional public affairs officer at the Bureau of Reclamation.

“The biggest problem that exists in that part of the world is that the Navajo have no water, and those poor folks end up hauling water up to 60 miles every week,” Wirth said.

“This project is going to provide those people water supplies over a long period of time.”

Saturday’s groundbreaking kicks off construction that is expected to run through 2024. By 2040, officials expect the completed project will be providing 37,000 acre-feet of water to upwards of 250,000 people annually.

The $10.75 million contract for the initial four miles of 42-inch water supply pipeline was awarded to Boise, Idaho, engineering firm McMillen LLC. Construction should begin by mid to late August, said Marissa Emmons, McMillen’s marketing director.

Plans to provide a long-term, stable water supply from the San Juan River basin to the Navajo Nation were first discussed in the 1960s, when studies for the project were authorized, Wirth said.

Decades later, ground will be broken at a ceremony featuring Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and a variety of tribal, state, local and federal officials.

Wirth said the project is projected to create more than 400 jobs in two years and up to 650 jobs at peak construction.

“Because of the major impact it will have on the economy, this job became one of 14 high-priority infrastructure projects nationwide by the administration,” he said. “They gave directions to the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process — it wasn’t going to get hung up on any red tape.”

Project funding has come through congressional appropriations and project partners, which include the city of Gallup, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the state of New Mexico, according to Wirth.

He said the pipeline will not be built in one continuous line but in sections that will ultimately be linked. It was designed that way to get water to the most people as soon as possible, he said.

“We don’t want to be working on this project from 2012 to 2024 while no one has any water,” he said.

“The construction of the project may look like it’s hop-skipping around because of the design, but if we can expedite getting water to somebody in a few years, rather than 12 years, that’s obviously desirable,” Wirth said. “By 2024, all of those pieces will be tied together.”