Resources and Development Committee presses public water systems program officials for accomplishments and drinking water data

Navajo Nation Council askes for more information before approving $1.5 million in grant money

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Before the Navajo Nation Resources and Development Committee (RDC) approves and accepts $1.5 million of federal grant money for the Navajo Nation Public Water Systems Supervision Program (NNPWSS), Navajo Nation council members asked for information on how the water agency used grant money in prior years.

Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake) asked Ronnie Ben, environmental department manager, and NNPWSS Environmental Program Manager Yolanda Barney for more information about the program.

"We talked about this before where we need some type of performance report. What have you done with the money before? How many unsafe drinking water incidents occurred? How was your program carried out?" asked Tsosie.

Council Delegate Roscoe Smith (Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake, Sawmill) sponsored the bill that requests a waiver of the indirect cost rate and acceptance of the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Each year for the last decade, we've been receiving federal funds from U.S. EPA," said Ben, noting that the program goes before the RDC every year for grant approval. "(The program) continues to ensure that drinking water on the Navajo Nation is going to be safe."

Barney explained that since the U.S. EPA granted NNPWSS program primary enforcement authority in 2000, the agency has been responsible for adopting environmental regulations, updating regulations, and maintaining a program that ensures public water systems operators are certified.

Staff also works on the infrastructural development of the drinking water system, and provides enforcement to ensure that water is safe to drink on the Navajo Nation, Barney said.

"We maintain an extensive database on the water quality across the Navajo Nation," Barney said, adding available data suggests high concentrations of uranium in some areas, and high levels of arsenic in others. "In those areas, the [Navajo Tribal Utility Authority], the [Bureau of Indian Affairs], or whoever is out there operating an official water system has to do treatment to bring those levels down to drinking water standards," Barney explained.

Tsosie said the council wants information on how those programs are performing.

"Why is it that we get reports from Cameron [Chapter] that the water quality is bad? Yet, you are telling us that it is safe," he said.

Before the legislation is presented before the Naabik'íyáti' Committee - the body with final authority on the proposed action - Tsosie asked program managers to provide a short summary describing the accomplishments made with the previous year's federal grant monies, along with a map depicting water quality in communities across the Nation.

"Even if the information is lacking, tell us," said Tsosie. "Tell us, 'the information is lacking, and that with these funds, we will dedicate some of these funds to obtain that information.'"

Legislation No. 0129-13 now moves onto the Budget and Finance Committee. The committee considered the legislation for action at the next scheduled meeting May 21, at 10:00 a.m.

The legislation then goes to the Naabik'íyáti' Committee which will make a final decision to accept the grant money or not.

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