Navajo Nation village fighting for clean water

New Mexico News

TO’HAJIILEE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico community in desperate need of water is in a fight over how to get it there. The Village of To’Hajiilee wants a pipeline that would bring clean water to them, but the pipeline would cut through the land, they do not own. The landowners said they want some answers before giving the okay.

A Navajo Nation village is experiencing a water crisis. “We know it is a problem,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said. “People deserve quality water.”

The water aquifer the village uses is failing with corroded pipes, resulting in brown, undrinkable water. “In terms of battling COVID-19, that running water is just so critically important,” Navajo Nation Advocate Laurie Weahkee said.

The village wants the Navajo Nation to pipeline the water to Albuquerque. The Water Authority would then process it and deliver it to the village. However, Quezada said getting all parties on the same page has been a challenge. “As a commissioner, part of your job is to be a mediator and bring people together so we can compromise and get things done,” Quezada said.

Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, which owns part of the land the pipeline would run through, has not granted the village an easement. A spokesperson for the company said the hold up is the village failing to answer their questions.

“We want to know things like where they want to get the waterline,” spokesperson Tom Carroll said. “How much water do they want to put through that line? There is only so much capacity. What will they use the water for?”

The company is also concerned about past reports of a golf course and RV park being considered in the area. “Small amounts of water can go through our system just fine,” Carroll said. “That would be millions of gallons a day.”

Navajo Nation advocate Laurie Weahkee said those rumors are untrue. “One, it is not their business what the Navajo Nation decides to do on its sovereign land,” Weahkee said. “Two, it is about getting these families drinking water, so I think it is a simple question. Will they allow Navajo families running water?”

Quezada said money from the CARES Act, which would help fund the pipeline, may be gone by the end of the year. A task force has worked the past three weeks to bring all parties together to sort it out. “They have all said publicly through the meetings that they want to resolve this,” Quezada said.

The goal is to finally get a written agreement before it is too late. “I see the light at the end of this tunnel or water at the end of this pipeline,” Quezada said. “We can do it.”

The next task force meeting is September 18. Quezada said lawyers for all parties are working to come to an agreement. He said if they can’t do that, the county will have to resort to condemnation and take the private property.

There are two other landowners, who Quezada said, have also not given their okay. Quezada adds there still needs to be a written agreement from the Navajo Nation that it will provide the water.

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