Rural New Mexico Water Systems Receive $ 5.1 Million In Funding »Albuquerque Journal

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, chats with Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Gov. Joseph Patrick Aguino, member of the Peter Garcia Jr. Tribal Council and US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, DN.M., on Wednesday after visiting the pueblo wastewater treatment facility. (Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

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OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO – The Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo sewage treatment plant has seen better days.

Corroded equipment and old pipes and tanks make up the small facility in Rio Arriba County.

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“Everything is so old that it’s hard to find parts,” said Nelson Edmonds, plant manager. “We are operating, but barely.

The pueblo will receive a grant of $ 1.5 million and a loan of $ 610,000 from the US Department of Agriculture to build a new wastewater treatment plant.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said access to clean water and modern water infrastructure systems are as much an economic priority as they are a public health issue.

“If you don’t have the capacity to handle more wastewater treatment, you just can’t grow as a community and you can’t ask for more housing to be built,” Vilsack said during a visit. Wednesday at the pueblo.

“You can’t ask companies to set up here, you can’t create jobs. It is therefore a job creator. It’s a business opportunity, ”he said.

USDA announced the project on Wednesday as part of a $ 307 million allocation for rural water supply and sanitation infrastructure.

In New Mexico, another $ 1.9 million grant will help San Ildefonso Pueblo in Santa Fe County modernize its sewage system.

The project will link 34 houses that are currently on a septic system, and add five connections for tribal government buildings.

U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, whose district includes the two pueblos, said the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the need to upgrade tribal water infrastructure.

“Many indigenous communities did not have access to clean water, did not have access to sanitation,” said the New Mexico Democrat. “And it had deadly consequences.”

The US Water Alliance estimates that Indigenous households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing.

Many indigenous communities, some without constant access to safe drinking water, have experienced disproportionately high rates of viral infection.

“I have spent decades working on hydraulic infrastructure,” said Leger Fernández. “It’s not sexy. They are pipes in the ground. But these pipes in the ground save lives.

The Ohkay Owingeh project is part of a regional water distribution plan, said Benny Lujan, director of public works for the pueblo.

A grant of $ 1.3 million awarded in 2020 by the New Mexico Tribal Infrastructure Fund will also support reconstruction.

“We will start to install main lines in the next phases,” said Lujan. “Then we’ll start reaching out north of us and then across the river to our neighbors. We will have to work with the county of Rio Arriba and these communities, but we hope that they can all join us.

The new facility will increase the pueblo’s water treatment capacity from 235,000 gallons per day to 350,000 gallons.

A Belen Facility is New Mexico’s third project funded this year by the USDA Program for Water and Waste Disposal Projects.

Belen will receive a grant of $ 580,000 and a loan of $ 409,000 to build a facility that removes arsenic from one of the city’s water wells.

The well currently exceeds the drinking water standards of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Department of the Environment for arsenic.

Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America body covering Water and the Environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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