President Shirley testifies on behalf of Navajo/Gallup water pipeline

Pictured from left are Patty Lundstrom of the Northwestern New Mexico Government Council, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., and Jim Dunlap, chairman of the Interstate Stream Commission of New Mexico (Photo courtesy of the Navajo Nation, Washington Office).

Pictured from left are Patty Lundstrom of the Northwestern New Mexico Government Council, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., and Jim Dunlap, chairman of the Interstate Stream Commission of New Mexico (Photo courtesy of the Navajo Nation, Washington Office).

WASHINGTON, D.C.-The Navajo Nation and City of Gallup are pushing for a $740 million water pipeline to serve 80,000 people, but the Bush administration is questioning where the funds would come from.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. testified July 24 before the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power.

President Shirley testified that the Navajo Nation, working in conjunction with the City of Gallup, is ready to move forward on the pipeline. He stated that if this project does not get moving that it will hurt economic development, Navajo families and impair Navajo chapters.

Delegations from the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup spoke in favor of the proposed pipeline.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson said the administration does not know how it would pay the bill for the costs of the water pipeline.

The testimony was before Chairwoman Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., and members Tom Udall, D-N.M.; George Miller, D-Calif.; and Jim Costa, D-Calif.

Chairwoman Napolitano said she was appalled that the administration has delayed getting water to Navajo families.

Udall introduced the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act in April. He testified that this proposal seeks to provide the development of a water system to address the water needs of many New Mexicans.

According to news reports, Udall said he was disappointed in the administration's position.

U.S. Sens Jeff Bingamin and Pete Dominici have introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The House Subcommittee will mark up the House bill and then send it on to the full Natural Resources Committee. The committee will consider amendments and then forward it to the full House for debate.

The bill authorizes the construction and rehabilitation of the water infrastructure in northwestern New Mexico. The proposed bill allows the reclamation fund to provide cost from the reclamation water settlements fund.

President Shirley testified that OMB's (Office of Management and Budget) assertion that this bill is too expensive "may be based on an overly restrictive interpretation of the criteria and procedures for participating in Indian water rights settlements."

President Shirley added that this view is inconsistent with three water rights settlements signed into law by President Bush as well as the Rural Water Supply Act of 2005.

New Mexico State Rep. Patty Lundstrom also spoke in favor of bringing the water pipeline to the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup.

A followup meeting has been set for this week in Santa Fe, N.M., for New Mexico and Navajo Nation officials to discuss how to proceed.

The $740 million would pay for the first phase of the pipeline. It would bring water to the Navajo communities of Red Rock, Fruitland, Hogback, Newcomb, Kirtland, Shiprock, Ojo Encino and Cudei.

President Shirley testified that representatives from the administration witnessed first-hand the hardships endured by Navajo families who haul water.

"While I believe these officials were moved by what they saw and heard, I understand that there are concerns that the project is too expensive," he said.

The Navajo Nation delegation attending the hearing included Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission Chairman Ray Gilmore, Vice Chairwoman Lena Fowler, Navajo Nation Council Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur, Navajo Nation Council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman LoRenzo Bates, former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Edward T. Begay, Navajo Nation Assistant Attorney General Stanley Pollak and Navajo Nation Washington D.C. Office Policy Director Simon Boyce.

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