By Kathy Helms
The Gallup Independent — 5 February 2008
WINDOW ROCK — President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 budget proposes no funding for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, zero funding for the Jicarilla Apache Rural Water Project, eliminates funding for Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, and slashes $22.5 million from Department of Justice tribal law enforcement programs.
Bush’s budget introduced Monday also seeks a 17 percent cut in funding for the Bureau of Reclamation, including a 72 percent reduction, or decrease of $101 million, for rural water projects and a 70 percent cut, or $17 million less, for water recycling projects. Funding for tribal water and waste water projects would be slashed from $15 million in FY 2008 to $2 million in FY 2009.
“When it comes to water, this bill is not good for New Mexico,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman said Monday. “I’m also very concerned about deep cuts in water initiatives that benefit our state.”
Bingaman introduced legislation for development of the Navajo-Gallup project, which received $246,000 in FY08 funding; the Jicarilla Apache project received $1,476,000.
Meanwhile, Navajo Nation officials have been moving steadily forward on the Navajo-Gallup project. Before hearing the news Monday morning, Stanley Pollack, water rights attorney for the Navajo Nation, said Bingaman’s legal counsel is in the process of redrafting some sections of the Environmental Impact Statement.
“We’re trying to get the EIS finalized and, of course, we’re also trying to push the legislation. There’s no question that it’s a lot of money at a time when Congress’s priorities are elsewhere,” he said.
“It presents some challenges and we think the major reason that there’s been delay in moving the bill has been trying to address the cost issues, trying to find funding mechanisms to pay for it and make it more palatable so that it would have a greater chance of gaining passage.”
Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur said last week that he thought the money angle was moving forward.
“In fact, I’m getting ready to introduce a legislation from Navajo, going through our process, that would pretty much put in place the question of the specific right-of-way for the Navajo-Gallup project. We basically had to move in this direction to keep getting the legislation for the funding request,” he said.
Bingaman said one positive item in the Interior Department budget is a new “Water for America” initiative, which includes slight increases for the National Streamflow Information Program, groundwater resource monitoring activities, water conservation projects, basin-wide watershed studies, and endangered species programs.
The items are similar, although smaller in scope, to initiatives proposed by Bingaman in his SECURE Water Act legislation. However, Bingaman believes that the modest gains made by the Water for America initiative are outweighed by the magnitude of budget cuts proposed for other programs to effectively addresses water needs across the country.
The administration’s indifference to water needs in the West would impose particular hardships on New Mexico and likely lead to more litigation concerning the use and management of the state’s limited water resources, he said.
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