After two years of planning and months of negotiations, the Navajo community of To’Hajiilee announced an agreement that will deliver much-needed water to residents. Mark Begay, president of the To’Hajiilee chapter of the Navajo Nation, called the settlement a historic occasion.
“I am a Marine Corps veteran, and it’s only fitting that this agreement came on Veterans Day,” Begay said during a virtual press conference Friday afternoon. “I’m overwhelmed with emotions: joy, happiness.”
To’Hajiilee, located 20 miles west of Albuquerque, is home to roughly 2,500 residents who all rely on just one supply well, which pumps water up from the Rio Puerco aquifer. The water levels in the aquifer have dropped in recent decades, and what water that’s left is filled with corrosive dissolved solids that eat through the pump equipment and wreak havoc on the indoor plumbing systems of the residents in To’Hajiilee. RELATED: A ‘humanitarian crisis’: To’Hajiilee’s aquifer is running out of water
The Navajo Nation owns rights to surface water that could be piped into To’Hajiilee and serve the community.
Indigenous community leaders and activists held a virtual information session on Indigenous People’s Day to bring awareness to a water crisis in To’Hajiilee, a Diné community 20 miles west of Albuquerque.
The community of roughly 2,500 is currently relying on just one supply well, which pumps water up from the Rio Puerco aquifer. The water levels in the aquifer have dropped in recent decades, and what water that’s left is filled with corrosive dissolved solids that eat through the pump equipment and wreak havoc on the indoor plumbing systems of the residents in To’Hajiilee.
The Navajo Nation owns rights to surface water that could be piped into To’Hajiilee and serve the community. To’Hajiilee and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) have already devised a project plan to build a pipeline that would transport the water from a holding tank in the county’s far western boundaries to To’Hajiilee.
But plans to access and transport that water are being thwarted by a development firm that hasn’t agreed to sell a two-mile easement for the pipeline. RELATED: A ‘humanitarian crisis’: To’Hajiilee’s aquifer is running out of water
“I thought today would be a really, really important day and an important message to share in front of my children that we are important, we are here, we need to be seen, we need to be heard and what better day to do it than on Indigenous People’s Day,” said Renee Chaco Aragon, a resident of To’Hajiilee and mother of ten. “We need people that are willing to listen, take time out of their lives and out of their day, to help us in our crisis.”
It’s not uncommon for the community’s single supply well to go down, Aragon said, disrupting daily life for everyone in the community.
“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to deal with on a day to day basis.
The Diné community of To’Hajiilee is named after a spring in the area, which at one point sputtered up enough freshwater to fill one bucket after another. That’s what the name references, roughly translated into English. Today, the segment of Rio Puerco aquifer that is located beneath the village, which sits just outside Albuquerque near I-40, is running out of water. “It appears the aquifer has been decreasing,” George Mihalik, an engineer with the firm Souder, Miller and Associates, told NM Political Report. “If you go up and down the Rio Puerco aquifer, like Laguna Pueblo to the south, they have similar issues with the wells there.”
Souder, Miller and Associates is working with To’Hajiilee’s chapter government to improve the chapter’s internal water systems. Mihalik has been working with To’Hajiilee for at least eight years, he said.
Albuquerque campaign finance reports released Friday shed some light on negative political ads aimed at New Mexico State Auditor and mayoral candidate Tim Keller. Shortly after early polls showed Keller leading the mayoral race, television and radio ads popped up accusing Keller of siding with sexual predators. According to finance reports from Make Albuquerque Safe, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC and Veteto Properties, LLC were the only two donors and each donated $30,000. Measure finance committees, or MFCs, are the Albuquerque equivalent of political action committees in state or federal races. WALH is most well known as the company behind the proposed Santolina development, west of Albuquerque.
A former Bernalillo County commission candidate is accusing a political action committee that advertised against him of not disclosing the bulk of its funding in time to meet state guidelines. Adrián Pedroza, a community organizer who in June lost a Democratic primary bid for an open county commission seat, filed a campaign ethics complaint against New Mexico for New Mexicans PAC last week. The complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the PAC violated state law by not properly disclosing nearly $35,000 of its funding until one month after the June 7 primary election. That money, the vast majority of which came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, encompassed more than half of the PAC’s $64,500 in donations during the election cycle. “It’s really about maintaining the integrity of the election and voters knowing whose contribution went to what and for what reasons,” Pedroza’s campaign manager Neri Holguin said in an interview.
The developer of the controversial Santolina development in western Bernalillo County poured nearly $36,500 in June in successful efforts to defeat vocal opponent Adrian Pedroza in the District 2 commission race. New Mexicans for New Mexico, a political action committee, raised nearly $64,500 from April through the end of June. More than half of that came in the days leading up to the June 7 primary from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC, the Arizona-based developer of Santolina, according to afinal report filed Thursday. Breaking Bad actor and Albuquerque Public Schools board member Steven Michael Quezadawon the three-way Democratic primary on June 7. New Mexicans for New Mexico bought billboards, hired canvassers, sent mailers and used robocalls to support Quezada and Robert Chavez as well as criticize Adrian Pedroza, who opposes the development.
When the Bernalillo County Commission considered and eventually approved the first stages of a controversial planned community last summer, commissioners took public subsidies for the development off the table. Nine months later, those subsidies are back on the table. Last week, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH), the company set up by London-based multinational bank Barclays and two other investors behind Santolina, submitted an application with Bernalillo County for 40 public improvement districts (PIDs) for the planned development. Santolina is a planned community that developers say would cover 22 square miles of land on Albuquerque’s West Side and house up to 90,000 people over the next 40 to 50 years. Critics call Santolina sprawl development while proponents argue it is tailored for the area’s projected population growth.
Bernalillo County commissioners approved the next big step for the Santolina planned community on yet another narrow vote Wednesday afternoon. The 3-2 vote came after several heated exchanges between commissioners and accusations that some lawmakers’ actions were stifling debate on the controversial planned development. The vote continued the familiar allegiances over the issue, with commissioners Wayne Johnson, Lonnie Talbert and Art De La Cruz voting in favor of the Santolina Development Agreement and commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley voting against. Last week, the commission approved both the Santolina Level A master plan and zoning changes for the property. Santolina is proposed to be built on 22 square miles west of Albuquerque over the next 40 to 50 years.
The Albuquerque city council narrowly rejected a measure that would have called on the city to weigh in on a controversial planned development on the city’s West Side. Councilor Isaac Benton carried the bill Monday night, two weeks after the council rejected his introduction of similar legislation that would have also given the city a say on the Santolina master plan. Benton said the city had a right to influence the master plan based on the city and county adopted Planned Communities Criteria and the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan. But councilors rejected the bill on a 4-3 vote, with two members abstaining because their employers own some land where Santolina is planned to be built.
During the debate on the legislation, Benton stressed that he wasn’t asking for anything drastic. “We’re not asking for signoff approval,” he said.
In the capital outlay bill passed in this week’s brief special legislative session, lawmakers included more than $2 million to work on a major road that would play a big role in proposed development of Albuquerque’s West Side. Specifically, lawmakers granted nearly $1.5 million for an “interchange row” between Paseo del Volcan and I-40 and another $600,000 for rights of way purchase for Paseo del Volcan. Currently, Paseo del Volcan covers just seven miles of Rio Rancho. Yet plans for the major roadway expansion, pictured right, show it stretching all the way down to I-40, going past landmarks of several controversial proposed developments, most notably the Santolina planned community. As New Mexico Political Report previously reported, many of the proponents behind the bypass expansion are also behind Santolina and other West Side developments.