POJOAQUE PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) – Work has started on a project that will bring drinking water to residents of four northern New Mexico pueblos as part of a settlement that ended a decades-long fight over water rights.
Federal officials said construction on the Pojoaque Basin regional water system began this week after crews finished prepping the site earlier this summer. The system, which will divert water from the Rio Grande, will consist of treatment facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines with the capability of supplying about 3.57 million gallons of drinking water a day.
The pueblos of Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso and Tesuque will benefit along with other residents of Santa Fe County.
San Ildefonso Pueblo Gov. Perry Martinez said the start of work marked a major milestone as the project has been talked about for years.
“It is hard to believe that it is finally happening,” Martinez said, noting there have been many hurdles in the Aamodt water rights litigation.
Filed in 1966. the case centered on Native American water rights disputes in Pojoaque Valley. The goal of settlement legislation enacted by Congress in 2010 and the settlement agreement eventually adopted by a federal court in 2016 was to resolve the pueblos’ water claims while preserving existing non-pueblo water uses.
Officials with the federal Bureau of Reclamation said the project will cost about $400 million and will take several years to complete.
They say there’s a need for more action by Congress, as lawmakers will need to raise the ceiling for spending related to the project in order to move beyond limited construction. Currently, spending is capped at a little more than $200 million.