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Reclamation’s Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant Project Wins the Best of Best Engineering News Record Award

Media Contact: Jenny Erickson jmerickson@usbr.gov
For Release: Apr 18, 2023

Representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office, Navajo Nation, and design-build contractor, Jacobs, were presented with the Best of the Best award at the 2023 Engineering News Record Awards of Excellence ceremony in New York City April 13. The national ENR award was for the Best Project in the Water/Environment category for the design and construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project’s Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant design-build. 

Twenty projects for design and construction achievements were recognized at the ceremony for work completed between May 2021 and May 2022. This year’s award winners showed the industry at its best, with teams overcoming an array of challenges to deliver impactful community assets. 

The award was more specifically for completing the $70.4 million water treatment plant and Reach 21 facilities on the NGWSP’s Cutter Lateral-- the challenges the project team faced, and the partnership that allowed for successful outcomes and an on-schedule project completion. The project was completed in October 2021 after a full year of commissioning and testing with initial water deliveries to Navajo chapters on the Cutter Lateral. 

There were several challenges with this project, including budget, schedule, construction in an arid and remote location, completion of upstream Reclamation reaches, new power lines necessary to provide the water supply to the water treatment plant, and more, to overcome before being able to make water deliveries to Navajo communities. The biggest challenge was coordinating the completion of the downstream reaches with the water treatment plant construction completion, and the phased systematic introduction of water into the Navajo public water systems, which needed teamwork and compromises among all parties.

All construction projects face common challenges of procurement, constructability, weather, etc., but as construction progressed on the CLWTP, there were also unforeseen difficulties with constructing and commissioning the project during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Jacobs performed admirably and put robust safety plans in place to comply with Reclamation, Navajo Nation, and their own internal COVID policies and procedures without missing a beat,” said FCCO Construction Engineer and Manager Bart Deming. “They were able to deliver the project on schedule with no lost time, incidents or outbreaks.”

The pandemic caused a devastating health crisis for the Navajo Nation, where, in part due to a lack of drinking water necessary to combat the virus, had one of the highest COVID transmission and death rates in the country. With the project on schedule, the Reclamation, Jacobs, and Navajo Nation team was able to begin water deliveries to Navajo communities in the middle of the pandemic, replacing poor quality groundwater supplies and providing the Navajo people on the Cutter Lateral with better health and sanitation services to deal with the pandemic.

“Jacobs has the privilege of working with the best clients across the globe who trust us with their most critical infrastructure projects,” said Jacobs Vice President, Design-Build Greg Fischer. “Our client partnerships are the essential ingredient in achieving award-winning design-build water and wastewater projects. Jacobs is proud to support Reclamation and their ongoing work toward completing the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. I thank Reclamation for giving us the opportunity to make an impact in the communities they serve and deliver a clean, reliable, and sustainable drinking water supply to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico for generations to come.”

The Cutter Lateral construction, completed in October 2020, is now providing a better quality, reliable, and sustainable drinking water supply to replace existing groundwater sources that are dwindling and of poor water quality. Collaborating with the design-builder, Jacobs, has paved the way moving forward for Reclamation on the NGWSP.

“As an engineering-centric agency, we’re extremely grateful that we could be more hands-on in design collaboration, working side-by-side with the Jacobs engineers and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority operations and maintenance team,” said Deming. “Reclamation and the Navajo Nation are very pleased with the high-quality work of Jacobs and their prime subcontractors. We are honored to have this project recognized as the nation’s best water/environment project by ENR, which is helping to shine a spotlight on the lack of drinking water availability on the Navajo Nation, where there is poor water quality and 40% of Navajo people haul water to their homes. The completion of this project is helping fulfill the United States and State of New Mexico’s commitment to bring water to the Navajo people.”

The Cutter Lateral Water Treatment Plant was constructed to treat up to 3.5 million gallons of water per day in the initial phase but was designed to have the capability to easily expand to 5.4 million gallons a day in the future as demand increases with economic development- eventually serving a population of over 50,000 people. By supplying a reliable and sustainable clean drinking water supply, the Cutter Lateral should help drive economic development and job creation in the eastern side of the Navajo Nation and southwest corners of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. The Cutter Lateral is servicing an estimated 6,000 people or 1,500 households. Water deliveries to the Teepee Junction on the Jicarilla Apache Nation are anticipated to start later this year, as they are in the final stages of connecting those communities to the Cutter Lateral. 

“With the commissioning of the water treatment plant, the Navajo Nation has received the long-awaited benefits of a long-term supply of potable water into eight eastern Navajo Chapter’s public water systems, including Carson Huerfano, Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, Nageezi, Counselor, Ojo Encino, Torreon, and Whitehorse Lake/Pueblo Pintado,” said Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources Director Jason John. “At the height of the COVID pandemic, the enormous benefits were evident to the many Navajo families receiving clean potable water along the Cutter Lateral. The Navajo Nation, along with Jacobs and Reclamation, are honored to be recognized as part of the Engineering News Record - Award of Excellence Gala In New York. Ahxéhee’: Thank you; Tó éí iiná át’é: Water is Life.”

The NGWSP is the cornerstone of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement in the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico. Because of the success of the Cuter Lateral, Reclamation is using the design-build process to construct the second NGWSP plant, the San Juan Lateral Water Treatment Plant, with a contract award planned for spring 2024.

For more information about the Engineering New-Record award, visit: https://www.enr.com/articles/56102-best-water-environment-cutter-lateral-reach-21-water-treatment-plant-and-associated-items.

Information about the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, visit: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/navajo-gallup/index.html.

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