Briefs

Federal funding for Pueblo irrigation projects could be stirred into the water act

By: - March 17, 2022 1:54 pm
View of Rio Grande river from Taos Junction Bridge

Taos Pueblo is one of 18 Pueblo nations along the Rio Grande that would benefit from the proposals proposed by U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury. (Photo by Mona Makela | Getty Images)

Another attempt to fund irrigation projects in Pueblos across New Mexico is being considered by Congress. 

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) is asking the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to include several proposals benefiting the state’s water infrastructure in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act.. 

“Our communities across the Southwest are gripped by the worst drought that we’ve seen in 1,200 years. And as we all know, this is very much the signature of climate change,” Stansbury testified on Thursday.

Among Stansbury’s seven proposals, she wants to add $200 million to the legislation that would be used for Pueblo irrigation if other such projects are being included.

The water act authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on civil activities, such as flood mitigation, improving water navigation and restoring aquatic ecosystems. The tribal projects do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps, so Stansbury’s request would need to go through the Bureau of Reclamation.

The tribal water projects have sat unfunded for several years. Last year, Stansbury pushed an amendment to pay for the projects through the Build Back Better bill that stalled in the Senate.

The Pueblo irrigation improvement project was created under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, introduced by then-Sen. Bingaman (D-N.M.) in his final term in office. 

Money was set aside to conduct studies, and nearly every Pueblo concluded their reports by highlighting specific areas where water infrastructure projects would be necessary. In 2017, a study showed that the areas would need $280 million to fund the efforts

Nineteen Pueblos are in New Mexico, but the irrigation project amendment supports the 18 Pueblo nations along the Rio Grande. Zuni Pueblo is not part of the program due to its geographic location on the western side of the Continental Divide and is under a different water service agreement.

In 2003, Zuni won a lawsuit granting the Pueblo access to water rights of the Little Colorado River in Arizona.

If money for the irrigation project is approved, the Bureau of Reclamation would facilitate funds for the tribal nations, who would then spend the money on infrastructure projects.

“New Mexicans are deeply concerned about ensuring that our water infrastructure is up to the challenge of responding to this drought and increasing hydrologic change that we’re seeing across our communities,” Stansbury said in her testimony.

Rep. Stansbury made several requests to be included in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act she says will benefit New Mexicans. They include:

– Increase funding to central New Mexico to help fund drinking water, wastewater, water security and stormwater projects.

-Fund a study for the Rio Grande Basin improvement project to improve management flexibility and water security.

-Update a hydrologic analysis study in Estancia so they can qualify for Army Corp projects. Stansbury said groundwater pumping has caused the Estancia Valley fill aquifer to drop, “by as much as five feet annually in some locations.”

-Reauthorize a share of the cost with the Army Corps to pay for the Middle Rio Grande Flood Protection plan from Bernalillo to Belen.

-Funding to pay for Tribal Acequia Programs to study and implement solutions for invasive aquatic plants.

-Increase money for the Tribal Partnership Program that connects tribal communities with money from the federal government.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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