The Leupp Community Land Use Planning Committee, like many other committees across the reservation, has a lot on its plate these days.
This year’s drought condition has raised a lot of questions concerning water, even as September flooding on the Navajo Nation spurred President Kelsey Begaye to designate disaster sites in many communities.
Chapter Vice President, Walter Phelps, and committee members Benjamin Jones, Elmer Gambler and Johnny K. Thompson met Sept. 13 to discuss a proposal that has been tossed around in the Leupp area for at least the last eight years. This is a proposal to extend a Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) water pipeline to Tolani Lake, as well as to residents in the area between Leupp and Flagstaff.
One of the problems in extending the water line, Phelps said, is that there are no answers about where the water would be coming from.
“We need to identify water for this purpose,” he said.
Johnny K. Thompson, who serves as chapter Grazing Officer, recalled the actions of the NTUA in establishing water rationing for livestock watering. This, he said, caused a great deal of anxiety among livestock owners.
“They aren’t looking for water for themselves,” Thompson said. “They can go to the store and buy water for themselves. They are concerned about water for their animals.”
Jones acknowledged that the drought conditions this year were severe enough to have people think about water provision.
“We always respond to situations that are severe,” Jones said. “We have droughts, we have floods – we are caught in this cycle.”
The chapter, he said, needs to think about those times in between.
A water line could solve this, but the chapter lacks an organization and the resources to assess what water resources are available.
Another area Phelps and Jones examined was what would happen once the pipeline is extended. Will the water be metered? Would the Resource Development Department in Window Rock take over the operation? Would the chapter be paid for this water?
Gambler urged the committee to take strong action in establishing chapter ownership of this water.
Phelps responded that completing the Land Use Plan in order to certify Leupp Chapter was of foremost importance in doing just that. And that, he said, might require district-wide collaboration.
Jones added that the development of Little Colorado water is of primary benefit to Leupp Chapter, pointing out that this waterway runs “right through our backyards.” He pointed out that it is important to examine current water distribution in order to develop a comprehensive plan.
“One day, the council here will need to have the answers to these questions, and our committee must have that knowledge. The chapter officials will be coming to us,” Gambler said. “As long as we are not certified, we have no power,”
Phelps agreed with Gambler.
“If we just let the BIA provide the resources to develop what we want, and we don’t put in our share to create equity in that, it would be hard to say who would benefit,” Phelps said. “If we can come up with the resources to move that project forward, Tolani Lake and Birdsprings might be able to put up their own funds to match.”
He said that the CLUPC might consider identifying existing wells and windmills, and noting which are operational as well as those that are not. This, he said, would become part of the committee’s community assessment. He added that the chapter might already possess some of this information, but that site visits and information such as well depth and production would be helpful.
Again, the question of whether this work should be done on the community or district level surfaced.
The committee came to the conclusion that there is a need to establish a local water committee to brainstorm on water issues.
“The CLUPC can’t fill both roles at the same time,” Phelps said. “I recommend the establishment of a local water committee to develop a comprehensive water distribution plan.”
“That would give us the ability to hire people to help us get the certification we need,” Jones added. “That is one way to take ownership of our resources.”
Phelps pointed out that CLUPC would need the blessings of the chapter, and the committee members pledged their time to an all-day work session in October to allow time to get important work done on this issue.
The committee also recapped old business in the form of prioritizing for land use planning.
If Leupp Chapter had 100 pounds of effort, Phelps said, 50 pounds of it would be expended relating to natural resources, such as water and land.
Phelps added that 25 pounds would be spent on tourism, parks and recreation, emergency services, housing and leadership development. Sacred sites and healthcare would receive 15 pounds of effort, and the final 10 pounds would be directed towards government services.
Again, Phelps pointed out that water and land are the priority issues in Leupp.
In summary, Jones stated the obvious.
“Water is a valuable resource.” We can’t ignore that value, or the question of how to distribute it.”