The Journal editorial Aug. 14 regarding the extension of a 7.3-mile pipeline from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority’s (ABCWUA) western-most water tank to the village of To’hajiilee (included) an important point. The Navajo Nation has water rights to the water that would flow to To’hajiilee.
The sticking point to allowing that water to flow to the 2,000 residents has been the refusal of land owner Barclays Bank of England and the Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH) to provide an easement on their property for a water line. Although there was a meeting (recently) between the parties, WALH is demanding documents that are not appropriate for it to demand. The ABCWUA has the authority to provide this water and has verified the water rights to To’hajiilee are valid. Therefore, it appears that the best way for this problem to be solved is for the county to pursue condemnation of the needed right of way.
It is important to note that WALH has also been battling to develop Santolina, a proposed 90,000-person community south of To’hajiillee and southwest of I-40 and 118th Street. This development is in a holding pattern because the ABCWUA has specifically required that the development must pay for the infrastructure needed to create a water treatment facility and water lines, which has been reported to cost as much as $600 million. There is great concern by many that water should not be transferred from the valley and the core of Albuquerque to this large proposed “new city.” The water-line proposed to extend across WALH property to To’hajiilee is completely separate from the proposed development of Santolina because To’hajiilee currently has Native water rights. WALH should not be allowed to use the waterline extension to To’hajiilee as a negotiating point or leverage relating to Santolina.
Kudos to our local leadership including U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who have advocated for the extension of this lifeline of water to the To’hajiilee community now. The Navajo Times on Aug. 10 reported the following: While the developer (WALH) promotes how it is advancing urban growth, Commissioner O’Malley points out that WALH has benefited from numerous state and county resources — for example: planning, zoning, tax breaks, entitlements and road improvements. O’Malley is quoted, “I am so angry, especially that they have benefitted from how much we have done and this is the way they are acting. That is not right.” Heinrich has called this a “humanitarian crisis.”
Together, as a community, we must protect our most precious natural resource, water. We all hope that WALH sees the importance of collaboration and works with the Navajo Nation and To’hajiilee to provide an easement to convey water in this crucial time of COVID-19 where clean water can mean life or death. If not, the county must pursue condemnation for the pipeline. Water rights are human rights.
This is truly a humanitarian issue and an issue of social justice to provide water to an indigenous community of New Mexico.