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'We're making progress' — Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project moves ahead on Navajo Nation


NEWCOMB — U.S. Bureau of Reclamation construction inspector Kenny Redhouse carefully watched crewmembers install a section of pipe in an area south of Newcomb on April 15 as construction continued on a pipeline that will eventually deliver San Juan River water to Gallup and communities on the Navajo Nation.

The water will replace dwindling groundwater supplies and meet future demand.

"I think it's a good thing for all communities. …We've come a long way," said Redhouse,  who is with the bureau's Four Corners Construction Office in Farmington.

That journey has also taken some time.

Project broke ground in 2012

It was in June 2012 when then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and others broke ground for construction of the first phase of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

Almost a decade later, construction proceeds on the San Juan Lateral, the largest of two segments that comprise the project. This lateral will eventually pump water from the San Juan River near Waterflow then deliver it south to Gallup and to Navajo Nation chapters along the pipeline and that surrounds the city.

As the lateral approaches Gallup, it branches east toward Crownpoint while another branch will serve Window Rock, Arizona, and areas along New Mexico Highway 264.

The bureau marked in October the completion of the Cutter Lateral, which will deliver water to several chapters on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation and to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

Bart Deming, the project's deputy construction engineer, said construction of the San Juan Lateral is about 50% complete.

"We still got a number of project features to complete, including the water treatment plant, but we're making progress and we have a number of projects that we’re planning on putting out for construction bid next year," Deming said.

Seven more years of work

The total cost of the project is about $1.5 billion, and the entire project will be operational in 2028, he said.

It is not difficult to notice construction activities alongside U.S. Highway 491 in Newcomb and Sheep Springs.

Rick Reese, field engineering division manager for the bureau's Four Corners office, said sections of pipe near Burnham Junction, in Naschitti and portions of Newcomb have been installed within the last year and a half.

The area of focus now is south of Newcomb into Sheep Springs.

Completion on this portion of the lateral is on track to end in early 2022, Reese said.

Construction did slow for a few months last year because of the coronavirus pandemic and due to the plant that manufactures the pipes in Mexico pausing production, he explained.

"I would say that's probably the only major hiccup that the pandemic caused us," Reese said.

On top of a hill in Sheep Springs, an excavator removed dirt and rocks from the location that will house a pumping plant.

The bureau awarded in September 2020 a nearly $46 million contract to Archer Western Construction LCC of Phoenix to build the pumping plant and a second one in Twin Lakes.

"It's in its infancy stages right now," Reese said about the site in Sheep Springs.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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