FARMINGTON, N.M. - Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., joined U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) Commissioner Robert Johnson, Southern Ute Tribal Vice Chairman Gary Hayes and Navajo Nation Council Delegate GloJean Todacheene on Sept. 11 to break ground on the long-awaited $58 million Navajo Nation Municipal Pipeline.
Speaking before officials from the BOR, the city of Farmington and the partners in the Animas-La Plata Project, President Shirley said the 28.4-mile-long pipeline will "connect the cities of Shiprock and Farmington together."
"It's a long time coming," he said. "It's bringing ... families together. That's the way it should be."
When completed, the 24-inch pipeline will deliver 4,600 acre-feet of water to Shiprock, Hogback, Nenahnezad and Upper Fruitland chapters.
"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."
BOR Commissioner Robert Johnson thanked the Navajo Nation for its patience in getting the pipeline started and said the bureau would see it through to completion.
"The [BOR] 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.
He said the pipeline will be the means to bring economic development and jobs to Navajos in the region.
The key to the pipeline is the $500 Animus-La Plata Project, which is the fulfillment of the 20-year-old water rights settlement of both the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.
"We can't deliver water to the Navajo Nation if we don't have that dam and pumping station upstream," Johnson said. "This project is about the future ... and making the next generation better off."
President Shirley called the pipeline groundbreaking a momentous day for the Navajo Nation because it begins construction of one of the largest municipal water projects of the Navajo Nation.
"We're connecting the very sacred element of water to many more of our families out there," he said. "I don't know how many of our families have been hauling water for decades."
He offered his thanks to the city of Farmington and to two Colorado tribes that made the pipeline 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. "We salute the Southern Ute and Mountain Ute tribes for their success in securing a fair and equitable settlement of their water rights. Implementing their settlement has been a long process ... We appreciate the Utes' work as the Navajo Nation begins to follow a long path toward resolving its water rights in the region."
Todacheene, who is also a San Juan County New Mexico commissioner, said she and her family used to get water from a spring in a wash that her family strained through flour sacks, and that she didn't take her first shower until she went to boarding school.
She said what the Navajo people really want is for their young people to return to the Navajo Nation, and that development of this pipeline and the opportunities it will bring will make that possible.
Among those most frequently thanked people during the groundbreaking was Dr. John Leeper, manager of the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch. It was through his tenaciousness that the pipeline project was included in the Animus-La Plata and moved forward to development.
The pipeline is expected to quadruple the drinking water supply for Shiprock, Hogback, Nenahnezad, Upper Fruitland chapters, creating the opportunity for more Navajos to find their livelihoods on the Navajo Nation.
President Shirley and Commissioner Johnson also thanked the New Mexico congressional delegation Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and Congressman Tom Udall for their support to see the project through.
"You can't complete a water project without the support of your congressional delegation," the commissioner said.