By Ernie Watson – Public Information Coordinator, USDA Rural Development
Although Earth Day won’t be celebrated until April 22nd, the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline at Counselor, New Mexico on Monday epitomized the very essence of what former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned 40 years ago when he established the first celebration of Earth Day.
The new water line will serve 10,000 members of the Navajo Nation with another 10,000 to be served within the next decade. Currently, 4,500 residents that will be served by the waterline drive up to 100 miles round trip to haul water for their home use and to provide water for their livestock.
The Navajo Chapters of Huerfano, Nageezi, Burnam, Counselor, Ojo Encino, Torreon, Pueblo Pintado and Whitehorse Lake are in the midst of a major water crisis. The residents of these communities do not have a sustainable long-term water supply and the aquifer in this harshly arid region is pumped much more quickly than it can be recharged by rainfall.
USDA Rural Development, the State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, the Indian Health Services and these eight Navajo Chapters to be served by the waterline, partnered to fund the $28.6 million to construct the water supply system. Rural Development provided $8.7 million in Tribal Set-Aside Water and Environmental Program funds for the project. When completed in two years, the water line will stretch 70 miles across four counties to provide clean, healthy water to those living in this remote area of New Mexico.
During the dedication ceremony, Earl Herrera the Hataalii (medicine man) asked the officials from each of the agencies, including RD State Director Terry Brunner, to participate in the traditional blessing of the water system. Each sprinkled corn pollen on themselves and the earth to give thanks for the construction of the water system.
A weaver from the Pueblo Pintado Navajo Chapter created a USDA rug commemorating the ceremonies that said “Ahehee” or “Thank you” in Navajo.
A Navajo rug was presented to State Director Terry Brunner during the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline ceremonies. The rug was crafted by a local artesian. The word “Ahehee” means ““Thank you” in Navajo.
New Mexico Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner (center) participates in a traditional Navajo blessing by sprinkling corn pollen on the ground during the dedication ceremonies for the Eastern Navajo Waterline in northwest New Mexico