Santolina developer blocks tribe’s water line

By Laurie Weahkee, Diné, Cochití, Zuni

The Diné (people) of Tó’hajiilee Chapter have an opportunity to get drinking-quality water to their community of approximately 2,000 families and children. We need your help to make this happen. The chapter, located west of Albuquerque, has survived largely on wells as its main water source. Over the years, the wells began to dry up and were only producing water with such a high mineral content that it corrodes pipelines and ruins pumps in a short amount of time.

Replacements for corroded pipes are expensive for this small community to keep purchasing, yet they have had to do what is necessary because they need the water, even if it smells like rotten eggs.

Now the chapter is down to one functioning well, so families throughout the community have to continue to acquire bottled drinking water which is expensive and inconvenient.

For several months, Tó’hajiilee has been working with the Bernalillo County Commission and the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Authority on a plan to get Native-owned water to their community. It requires acquiring easement from three private land parcels, the largest being Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, developers of the controversial Santolina masterplan.

To’hajiilee’s water engineers reached out to this developer two years ago for a meeting to discuss acquiring an easement; the land agents for this company refused.

It was not until Bernalillo County threatened condemnation that the company started to hold “stakeholder” meetings over the last several weeks with their public-relations representative, requesting irrelevant information from the engineers, trying to pit the tribes against one another by accusing To’hajiilee of trying to get water for a casino, and on and on. A shameful delay tactic, when at any time in the last two years, they could have offered to be a good neighbor by agreeing to an easement.

To make matters worse, $2 million in CARES ACT funding is at risk. The Navajo Nation appropriated this funding for this pipeline, but  it must be committed by this month and spent by the end of this year. More delay tactics by Western Albuquerque Land Holdings will jeopardize this funding.

It’s time to remind the Bernalillo County commissioners how grave a situation this is for the families of To’hajiilee, especially during a pandemic. Enough with WAHL’s delay tactics. They need to pursue condemnation as soon as possible. WAHL has had two years to do the right thing.

Water is life and our neighbors need our help. We gathered on October 12, Indigenous Peoples Day, to show our support for Tó’hajiilee. Honor Tó’hajiilee’s right to water by signing the petition at actionnetwork.org to the Bernalillo County Commission.

Photo: Tó’hajiilee children hold a bottle of water from the community’s well. Santolina developers are blocking the pipeline that could bring Tó’hajiilee clean water. Photo courtesy of Robert Apodaca. 

Santolina developer blocks tribe’s water line