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LeChee, Reclamation negotiate water deal

Posted: Tuesday, Jun 24th, 2008


LECHEE — The ever-growing and potentially mushrooming water needs of LeChee provided the gist for contract negotiations between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Navajo Nation during a public meeting Monday at the LeChee Chapter House.

Representatives from Reclamation and the Navajo Nation discussed specifics of a proposed new contract that would guarantee LeChee 950 acre-feet of water a year through nearly mid-century. That would mark a significant increase from the current allotment of 112 acre-feet per year (100,000 gallons per day) authorized under the chapter’s contract with Page.

The contract, which still must be reviewed and ratified by Navajo Nation policy makers, would mark the first step in obtaining additional future water resources to allow the community to grow.

Before any such deliveries could take place, a new contract with the city of Page would be required, since the city provides and treats water delivered to LeChee under contract with Reclamation. In addition, a new waterline would have to be built to LeChee, and modifications to the actual intake pipe on Lake Powell might also be required.

The discussions centered primarily on technical language in the contract, although a primary concern of tribal representative John Leeper was up-front costs.

Leeper, director of the Navajo Nation’s Department of Water Resources Water Management Branch, asked Reclamation representatives if the costs could be reduced for the first several years of the contract and then accelerated in later years. The purpose, he said, was to ensure that a new water delivery line would be in place by the time costs escalate, and that there would be adequate customers for that water to pay for those increases.

“If we could lower the front end a bit, that would be helpful,” Leeper said.

He added that the community has “pent up demand,” but until a means exists to deliver increased water to the community, there is no point in spending scarce tribal resources on water that can’t be delivered.

“For us to come up with the few thousand dollars today, for us is tougher than you can imagine,” Leeper said.

He added that the contract would probably not be signed until late this year.

Chapter representative Ed Bigman commented that many people want to build in LeChee, and the community is ready to grow, but lack of sufficient water and electricity hold it back.

“We’re totally at a standstill,” Bigman said.

Reclamation representative Stan Powers said that its ironic that power and water are limiting community growth, gesturing out the window toward the lake and the abundant power lines running through the area.

Page Mayor William Justice said later, that although he couldn’t speak for the City Council, he felt it was widely agreed that a healthy and growing LeChee would be in the best interests of Page residents and businesses. Bureaucratic obstacles continue to prevent progress for LeChee regarding both improved power and water deliveries, Justice added.

Justice noted that LeChee has occasionally exceeded its allocation of 100,000 gallons a day under its contract with the city, but Page hasn’t made it an issue.

Several people present cited bureaucracy and cumbersome laws as bigger impediments to economic growth in reservation communities like LeChee than actual lack of electricity or water resources.

Although the contract remains a draft only, it specifies the costs involved with future Reclamation deliveries of water. Under terms of the draft, which were modified at Leeper’s request, the chapter would be charged $1 per acre-foot of water through 2013, $8 per acre-foot in 2014-15, $32 per acre-foot in 2016-17 and $41 per acre-foot from 2018 through 2047, the contract’s final year.

Water would be ordered in blocks of 25 acre-feet, with the ultimate allocation of 950 acre-feet representing a long-term need based on potential growth.

Specific language for several sections of the contract was left unfinished, including sections related to Navajo Nation water rights resolution and legal remedies available to the tribe.

It is likely that the water allocated under the contract will be included in any future water allocation settlements reached between the Navajo Nation and other parties.

Pat Page, Southern Water Management Group Chief for Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office, noted that the increased water allocation would still have to go through an environmental assessment.

The allocation currently comes out of Arizona’s Upper Colorado River allotment of 50,000 acre feet per year, and constitutes “a microscopic drop in the bucket” of that allotment, Page said.

Discussions over a new contract have been in progress for about two years, Page added.

Leeper said that, while more work needs to be done, the contract negotiations are a welcome sign of progress for a community that has long been seeking it.

“The community’s been waiting for a while for this to happen,” he said.

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