A flick of the wrist...


Yesterday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009.  His signature ensures protection for more than 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide, and sets the long-awaited Navajo-Gallup water project in motion, delivering badly needed infrastructure and acre feet to the Navajo Nation. 

More than  70,000 people in the Navajo Nation do not have easy access to clean drinking water. At least 40% of residents have to drive considerable distances to fill water drums, which makes it difficult for communities on the reservation to exist, much less grow or thrive. In Gallup, New Mexico, city wells are often contaminated by chemicals like sulfate and uranium, and water levels are dropping between 7-29 feet per year. 

Historically, the Navajo have been excluded from western water allocation, as Matt Jenkins' 2008 story, "Seeking the Water Jackpot," explains. Last week, 247 Democrats and 38 Republicans voted to pass the omnibus bill, which guarantees an $870 million water delivery system that will transport 37,764 acre feet of water every year from the San Juan River in Shiprock to Gallup, New Mexcio, the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Arizona, and Window Rock, AZ.  The project is set to be completed by 2010. 

37,764 acre-feet is a drop in the bucket compared to the 600,000 acre feet in Navajo water rights that the Omnibus Act confirms. Infrastructure to deliver this amount of water could take up to 13 years to complete, depending on funding, but it will allow the Navajo to plan their future with more confidence.