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Reclamation Celebrates Major Milestone for Tribal Water Delivery Project as Part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda

Today's event also celebrated Reclamation’s 120th birthday

Media Contact: Upper Colorado Basin Public Affairs ucbpao@usbr.gov
For Release: Jun 9, 2023
Former San Juan Generating Station Reservoir which will now be called the Frank Chee Willetto Reservoir. Former San Juan Generating Station Reservoir which will now be called the Frank Chee Willetto Reservoir.

FARMINGTON, N.M. – The Bureau of Reclamation and Navajo Nation today celebrated a major milestone for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project through the acquisition of the San Juan Generating Station water conveyance system. The acquisition of the water conveyance system, including a reservoir – to be renamed the Frank Chee Willetto Reservoir – is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to ensure that clean, safe drinking water is delivered to nearby Tribal communities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included a total of $2.5 billion to implement the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, with $260 million allocated for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 for design and construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The funding will support the local economy through new jobs for project construction on the San Juan Lateral.

Reclamation purchased the San Juan Generating Station water conveyance system for $8 million from Public Service Company of New Mexico, which became available with PNM’s decision to exit the coal-fired power generation business at this location. The acquisition provides approximately $70 million in savings when compared to other construction alternatives explored for the San Juan Lateral portion of the project.

Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, New Mexico Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, and Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren joined local community members and Tribal leaders at an event celebrating the acquisition of the generating station and the continued progress and collaboration on the NGWSP.

“Water is crucial for the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities. This is especially important within the Navajo Nation, as many residents are finally receiving water that has long been promised to them,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “This acquisition continues the commitment and progress that the Interior Department and Reclamation have made towards the fulfillment of our trust responsibilities to the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation through the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement.”

“The acquisition of the San Juan Generating Station Reservoir and Water Conveyance System is a major milestone, which will be a tremendous asset for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project,” said Reclamation Four Corners Construction Office, Construction Engineer & Manager Bart Deming. “Its incorporation represents a significant cost savings to the project while also increasing operational flexibility and reducing operational risk by providing off-river storage, allowing increased drought resistance to support a sustainable water delivery system.”

The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement in the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico and was authorized for construction by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, aka Public Law 111-11. Construction began in 2012 and is scheduled to be completed by 2029. The completed project will include approximately 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks. The project helps address the needs of the Navajo Nation, where more than one in three people do not have indoor plumbing and must haul drinking water to their homes.

In addition to the 43 chapters on the Navajo Nation, the water supply project will also deliver clean drinking water to the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the city of Gallup, New Mexico, serving more than 250,000 people in total and meeting the water demands of these communities for the next 40 plus years. Water conveyed and stored in these facilities is part of the Navajo Nation’s Water Rights Settlement in the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico and the City of Gallup’s water allocation authorized in Public Law 111-11.

During the ceremony, Reclamation and Navajo Nation leadership unveiled a new name for the former San Juan Generating Station Reservoir: the Frank Chee Willetto Reservoir is named after Frank Chee Willetto, a member of the Navajo Nation who proudly served as a Navajo Code Talker during World War II. Willetto also served on the Navajo Nation Council from 1974 to 1986 and held various other positions, including Navajo Nation Vice President from August 1998 to January 1999. Willetto remained active in his Tribal community and attended the signing of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which authorized the NGWSP. He died in his home in Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico, on June 23, 2012, at the age of 87. 

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is growing the economy from the bottom up and middle out—from rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, to driving over $470 billion in private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments in the United States, to creating good paying jobs and building a clean energy economy that will combat climate change and make our communities more resilient.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $8.3 billion for Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers and wildlife. The investment will revitalize water delivery systems, advance water purification and reuse techniques, expand water storage capacities and complete rural water projects.

Visit the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project website for more information. Visit Reclamation’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law website for more information on implementation of the law.

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The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior and is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier and second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Our facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation opportunities, and environmental benefits.

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