‘A seed that will be planted’: Extra funding needed to deliver water in the west
Western Navajo could have an innovative economy with water, said Delegate Paul Begay.
“The number one need here in Western Navajo is water,” Begay said. “Economic development – hotels, restaurant – we can do all that, we can build all that, but we don’t have water.”
Once a water main is constructed, perhaps Western Navajo can compete with cities and municipalities nearby, said Begay, who’s pushing for the Antelope Canyon (Tsébighánlini/Tsébii’ Hazdeestas) Development Area in Łichíi’ii and for Phase I of the Western Navajo Pipeline.
Both water delivery system projects amount to $84.3 million. The pipeline alone is estimated to be nearly $45 million, the development area $30.7 million, and Antelope Marina $8.5 million.
The pipeline would take water from Lake Powell through the city of Page and along Navajo Route 20 (U.S. Route 89T) toward Coppermine, Bodaway-Gap, U.S. Route 89, and up toward Na’ní’á Hasani.
In the future, the pipeline would have lateral roots to Tónaneesdizí and Moenkopi on U.S. Route 160.
“This will get water to LeChee,” Begay explained. “It will get water to Coppermine, down to Bodaway-Gap and surrounding areas.
“It’s a seed that will be planted,” he said. “Ten to twenty years from now, we anticipate that the water will reach Tuba City, Coalmine Canyon, Cameron – the whole western region (18 chapters). Tonalea-Red Lake, Kaibeto, Ts’ahbiikin – we’ll eventually reach those areas.”
Both projects involve planning and constructing various water infrastructure components and facilities in Łichíi’ii, Bodaway-Gap, and Cameron.
Those components include a water treatment plant, miles of water and power lines, wells, and storage tanks.
Begay said there isn’t a water main in Western Navajo because of water rights and claims in the upper and lower Colorado River basins. The Navajo Nation has completed a water settlement that recognizes some of its water rights to the Colorado River system. The tribe also has an additional outstanding claim.
Right now, the Page Water Treatment Plant provides safe drinking water to the community of Łichíi’ii.
“So, we are basically at the mercy of the city when it comes to that,” Begay said. “One of our justifications for beginning this Western Navajo Pipeline is that we want to be self-sufficient, self-reliant.
“We don’t want to rely on the city of Page to worry about our water rights,” he said.
Begay’s legislation (CJY-39-21) asks for $58.2 million in Sih Hásin Funds to the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch for Phase I of the Western Navajo Pipeline.
“We (along with co-sponsors Carl Slater, Herman Daniels Jr., Otto Tso and Thomas Walker Jr.) asked for $58 million because that was the shortfall,” Begay said.
Begay said Phase I could be eligible for funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. If it is suitable, the funds will replace the money allocated from Sih Hásin.
“Funding will jump start our (own) water treatment facility (in Western Navajo),” Begay said. “We don’t know exactly how many phases (it will take to complete the pipeline).
“We’re looking at this (Sih Hásin Fund) to help us with our procurement process,” he said, “the assessment process, getting the right-of-way. This $58 million will fund that (over) two to two and half years.
“That’s what we call a ‘shovel-ready project,’ ready for work to begin,” he said. “After that, it’ll take another four to four and half years for the actual work to happen and to complete.”
This means that Phase I will be completed within five years, and the pipeline should reach Tónaneesdizí and the rest of the Western Navajo region within 20 years.
“The work has already begun, and we just need these extra funding to do the rest of the assessment processes, the right-of-way processes so that the work that has begun will not be delayed,” Begay said.
No water in the west
A water settlement nine years ago would have sent a water delivery pipeline from Lake Powell through the entire Navajo Nation and connected to the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is now under construction.
President Jonathan Nez, then a Council delegate, and his colleagues voted down the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Rights Settlement.
The Council at the time, in 2012, voted six in favor and 15 opposed.
The proposed settlement agreement included about $4 million for water projects for the Navajo and Hopi nations.
Now, Western Navajo is at risk from a water crisis. While a storage tank that will provide water storage for the Gap Water System, a health clinic, and the Indian Health Service Koko pipeline (extending water to 32 existing homes) is being built in Bodaway-Gap, tour businesses in the Tsébighánlini/Tsébii’ Hazdeestas area need water.
“We have over 15 businesspeople that run the slot canyon tours, and that’s all they have,” Begay said. “They don’t have water. They would like to add restaurants and motels (to their businesses), so we can be competitive. This Western Navajo Pipeline will help in that area.
“The tour businesses constructed buildings, but they don’t have running water,” Begay said. “They don’t have good restroom facilities. We could have truly nice business establishments being built here (in Western Navajo).”
Michelle Monroe, the chief operations officer of Kenneth and Emily Young’s Western Circle Group of businesses in Page, said no water in the west is true as Ken’s Tours hauls water daily for indoor plumbing.
“My parents down the road toward Antelope Point Marina still have no running water,” said Monroe, who’s the daughter of Kenneth and Emily Young. “They haul water daily.”
Monroe’s aunt, Dixie Ellis of Dixie’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours (located next to Ken’s Tours in Łichíi’ii), also must haul water daily for her business.
Begay added, “If anybody needs water, it’s the Navajo people. We’ve been here for hundreds of years, supposedly … the original landlords here. We should be the one who should have use of the water first rather than transported or just being let go, and it’ll go somewhere else.”