Rep. Stansbury amendment could pay for Pueblo water projects

By: - September 14, 2021 5:00 am

Eighteen Pueblo nations along the Rio Grande would benefit from the amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury. (Photo by Shaun Griswold | Source NM)

A long-standing water irrigation project benefitting Pueblos along the Rio Grande in New Mexico could finally see the funding it requested for years.

An amendment in the House Democrats spending bill could give $200 million to the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigations Improvement Project.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) said she requested the amendment through the House Natural Resources Committee with consultation from tribal leaders in the state.

If the amendment stays in the spending bill when it’s voted on the House floor it would also need support to remain in the consolidated spending bill crafted by the Senate. The House is committed to vote on the spending bill by the end of the month.

“There’s a huge backlog in deferred maintenance on the irrigation infrastructure, on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Stansbury said in an interview. “Previous members of Congress, including Senator (Jeff) Bingaman, going way back have been advocating for years to address these infrastructure needs of the Pueblos.”

Nineteen Pueblos are in New Mexico, however 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 it access to water rights of the Little Colorado River in Arizona.

Map of the Pueblo nations that would benefit from the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigations Improvement Project. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.)

Stansbury said other amendments in the spending bill would support water projects for all tribal nations in New Mexico. 

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. 

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

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

Stansbury acknowledges the amendment has a ways to go before money flows to the Pueblos. She has already begun conversations with New Mexico’s senators to keep the amendment in a consolidated bill. 

“Water is life and water is a human right. And our tribal communities have been left behind for generations and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we get funding and resources to them as quickly as possible,” Stansbury said.

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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.