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An environmental impact study for a proposed water pipeline to Gallup and the New Mexico and Arizona portions of the Navajo Nation is hung up over the crucial question of the water's source.
The water proposed for the project belongs to New Mexico as part of the Colorado River Compact of 1922. New Mexico belongs to the Upper Colorado River Basin and Arizona is a lower basin state.
"This project takes water from the upper basin and puts it into the lower basin. It's never been done before," said Rege Leach, pipeline project manager in the Bureau of Reclamation's western Colorado office. "There is no precedence for this and we must evaluate the laws of the river to come up with a solution. This will involve a lot of negotiation."
Years in the planning, the pipeline would carry about 36,000 acre-feet of water for municipal and industrial use to Gallup, the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Ariz., and Navajo communities in New Mexico and Arizona. An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.
"Typically we don't get this far without a water supply, but it's such an important project we knew we could find water eventually so we just went ahead and did the analysis," Leach said. "Now we cannot proceed until we find a water supply."
The bureau, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation are trying to work out an agreement on San Juan Basin water rights, but in the meantime the study and the project are at a standstill, he said.
Otherwise, the study of the project is largely done, Leach said.
"The physical part and design is pretty straightforward; it's the water supply which is causing us to extend the project schedule. Once we identify a water supply, we will come up with a schedule and date for completion," he said.
The environmental study details the economic, social and environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline.