To’Hajiilee, county call for action on water pipeline

On July 29, New Mexico Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, who doubles as a truck driver, drove a wide-framed truck loaded with 2,500 one-gallon bottles of water and parked it behind a city/county tanker truck near the Tohajiilee Chapter House where a loudspeaker and mic was set up for a press conference.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley (District 1) organized the press conference with chapter President Mark Begay, as part of a call to action to bring national attention to the water crises at To’hajiilee. To’hajiilee is located about 24 miles west of Albuquerque.

“The wells that supply clean water to To’hajiilee have all but dried up,” O’Malley wrote in an online call to action. “All clean drinking water for all households, (the clinic and school) must be shipped in. There’s no question, this a humanitarian crisis.”

“Two years ago, we started having trouble with our well No. 5,” Begay said. “If that well goes out, everything shuts down,” said Begay.

Besides the local water well breaking down intermittently, community member Leela Platero said the quality of water is unacceptable. “These are Third World conditions here,” she said. “Most people don’t drink the water. It smells worse than rotten eggs.” Platero is especially concerned for her great-grandchildren and all the children in the community.

Helen Johnson, a teaching assistant at the To’Hajiilee Community School, also expressed concern for the younger generation. “We are in dire need for water,” she said.

The speakers at the press event included: Garcia, state Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Jamie Henio, who represents Alamo, Ramah and To’hajiilee.

Pointing to the trucks behind him holding tons of water for the community, Garcia said, “This is a Band-Aid (approach).” He stressed that everyone needs to support To’hajiilee in its efforts to secure the long-term solution of a water pipeline connecting To’hajiilee to the Albuquerque water system.

“Fortunately, the Navajo Nation has water it can convey to To’hajiilee. It’s just a matter of building 7.4 miles of pipeline from Albuquerque,” Begay said. But the proposed pipeline plan has been stalled for two years because the asset managers for an Albuquerque westside development have repeatedly dodged requests to negotiate terms for an easement through their property.

Jeff Garrett and Mathew Look of the Garrett Development Corporation of Arizona represent Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, or WALH. The July 9 Navajo Times story “To’hajiilee’s fresh water blocked – county steps in,” tells how Begay and project engineer George Mihalik from Souder, Miller and Associates, have been trying to get Garrett and Look to come to the table to negotiate before and during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The call for action also aims to put pressure on financiers of the sprawling westside development, one of which is the British bank, Barclays.

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