President Shelly requests financial aid in wake of water crisis on reservation

Below freezing temperatures break pipes and leave thousands without water

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly outlined steps he has taken to ask for help with Operation Winter Freeze during a meeting at the Navajo Division of Transportation Complex last week.

Shelly said he sent a letter to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and to the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking for assistance with money for Operation Winter Freeze. Officials expect repairs to restore water service to thousands on the Navajo Reservation to cost $2.8 million.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency for parts of northern Arizona affected by the water shortage.

"We are working to make sure our people get water again. We have Navajo people who are suffering, and we need to get them water. Some of our people have been without water for months," Shelly said Feb. 7. "I also want to commend the chapters that are already taking the lead to help their communities. And I want to thank Gov. Brewer, Gov. Martinez and other state and local leaders for helping our people," Shelly added.

Shelly called all Navajo Nation Executive Branch Divisions to the meeting so they could be updated and find ways to help the people without water.

"You work for the people. Our people are suffering right now. We can't let that happen. We have to help our people," Shelly said.

Shelly also welcomed officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who are on the reservation helping to ask President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency so the Navajo Nation can receive FEMA funding for Operation Winter Freeze.

Obama recently signed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, which contained amendments to the Stafford Act that allows federally recognized Native American tribes to seek a federal emergency or disaster declaration from the President of the United States.

"Keep all your records in order - from time worked, to receipts. We are going to need all our financial records to be in order if we are going to get reimbursed," Shelly said.

Emergency management officials estimate that 10,000 people on the Navajo Nation are without water because of broken or leaking water lines. Water lines froze after nearly three weeks of temperatures that regularly dipped 20 degrees below zero at night.

Crews from Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority and Salt River Project are all working throughout the Navajo Nation to fix water lines.

The money Shelly seeks would be enough to run the emergency operations center and to hire 15 additional crews to help with repairs.

"We are going to continue doing all we can to help our people," Shelly said.

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