The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last week the most recent batch of funding to help the federal government meet its requirement to pay tribal water rights settlements.
Out of the $326.5 million announced for nearly a dozen settlements and projects, $235.1 million will go to two water supply projects in New Mexico.
The bulk of the money coming into the state from the Interior Department and the largest allocation announced is $164 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. An additional $2 million in separate funds will also go toward operation and maintenance on the project.
Another $69.1 million will go toward the Aamodt Water Rights Settlement, a water claim and use agreement now under the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act that involves the Pueblos of Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque, San Ildefonso, Santa Fe County and the state of New Mexico.
Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project needs deadline extension
The goal of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is to send an industrial and municipal water supply from the San Juan River to eastern parts of the Navajo Nation, the city of Gallup and southwestern parts of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, areas that largely depend on a depleting groundwater supply.
“The plan is to use the money to complete this critical project that will provide surface water to Gallup and surrounding communities,” Gallup Interim City Manager Jim DeYoung told Source NM.
Bart Deming, project construction engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said most of the $164 million will go toward the design and construction of a water treatment facility. He said his team is planning on awarding contracts next summer, which he said will also create new jobs in the area and put money into the local economy.
Some of the funds will also go toward other design and construction work, Deming added.
“We’re incredibly happy about the amount of money that the administration is putting towards the project, allowing us to continue meeting our goals towards the project completion,” he said.
Under a water settlement, the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is legally required to be finished at the end of 2024. Delays made that scenario impossible, forcing leaders and developers to push for an extension.
U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury are pushing for a bill introduced during the summer to push back the deadline. There’s been no movement on the legislation since.
In the meantime, Deming said the Navajo Nation, the state of New Mexico and the federal government are trying to extend the deadline on their own, which can happen with all of the entities’ approvals. He said the parties have informally agreed to an extension to 2029 and just need to sign an official agreement.
“Not knowing how quickly Congress will act, we need to get some of these extensions done now,” he said.
The total cost of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is about $1.996 billion, according to an Oct. 19 water rights settlement funds report from the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.
From fiscal years 2010 to 2022, Congress has provided $1.195 billion in mandatory funding, the report says.
New Mexico has committed $50 million as of October 2022, according to the report.
Deming said it could take another month or two to receive the latest funding from the Interior.
Millions for water at four Pueblos
The second-largest federal allocation the federal government announced is the Aamodt settlement at $69.1 million, which involves the Pueblos of Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque and San Ildefonso.
Under this settlement, the federal government is setting up a regional water system to serve both tribal and non-tribal members in the area, according to the Office of the State Engineer’s report.
Construction is ongoing, the report says, paid for by the federal government, New Mexico, Santa Fe County and the Pueblos involved in the settlement.
The total funding for the project is $406.3 million, according to the report, with $276.8 coming from the federal government, $104.5 coming from New Mexico and $38.4 million coming from Santa Fe County.
The third settlement New Mexico is involved in that’s currently being implemented is the Taos Pueblo settlement. It didn’t get Department of Interior funding for fiscal year 2024.