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First phase of Navajo-Gallup water pipeline project OK'd

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior said Monday it has awarded a $10.75 million contract for the construction of the first phase of the long-awaited Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

The nearly $1 billion project is designed to meet the long-term water supply needs of 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation. Construction on the project, which was first talked about in the 1960s, must be completed it by the end of 2024.

“We’ve been working on this project off and on for several decades,” said Jason John, acting branch manager of the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch. “This is a huge milestone for the Navajo Nation and the residents living in northwest New Mexico.”

The contract to build about four miles of water supply pipeline and a facility eight miles north of Gallup, N.M., was awarded to McMillen LLC of Boise, Idaho.

McMillen is expected to begin construction this summer, and at least two more construction contracts should be awarded before October, said Pat Page, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which is overseeing the project. It is expected to create 400 to 450 jobs this year and about 200 more jobs at the peak of construction.

John said studies for the project were first authorized in the 1960s. An estimated 40 percent of Navajo Nation households currently rely on hauling water to meet daily needs, according to the Interior Department. The Navajo need to build about $3 billion of infrastructure to meet their current water needs.

“The project today does address a huge chunk of that needed infrastructure for the Navajo Nation,” John said.

He said that unlike most supply lines, the Navajo-Gallup line will begin construction from its target back to its source in the San Juan River basin. This will allow the supply line to begin delivering water around 2015 or 2016, John said.

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“We have an interim groundwater supply that we’re planning to use in the short term for some of these communities before the San Juan River water gets here in 2024,” he said.

The completed project will provide more than 37,000 acre-feet of water annually and is expected to support about 250,000 people by the year 2040.

“We are excited to be a part of it, we recognize the importance of it and we recognize the importance of it to the Navajo Nation,” said Marissa Emmons, McMillen’s director of marketing and public relations. “We understand how high of a priority it is and that it needs to be successful.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the project in the short-term will “create hundreds of high-paying construction jobs. In the long-term, the permanent water supply will vastly improve the quality of life and offer greater economic security for the Navajo Nation.”

The project was approved in March 2009, and took another step forward in late 2010 when Salazar signed the Navajo Nation San Juan River Basin Water Rights Settlement Agreement.

“This construction contract award marks a major milestone for this high-priority infrastructure project as we work to implement the historic water-rights settlement that will deliver clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people and offer certainty to water users across the West,” Salazar said in a statement.

So far, the project has secured nearly $100 million in funding from various sources.

This is “a very high priority project,” said Lisa Iams, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman. “It represents a major water rights settlement, so it’s certainly at the top of the (Interior Department’s) priority list.”

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Bureau of Reclamation