To’hajiilee gets water, but at what price? 

By Diane Reese, Central NM Group

On Nov. 19,  the Navajo Nation, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WAHL) and Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility announced an agreement on a pipeline easement to allow the Village of To’hajiilee to access desperately needed water.

The village’s wells had dried up, and it had to ship clean water in. It already had legal rights to the Albuquerque water and the money to pay for the project through Navajo Nation CARES Act funding, but WAHL had repeatedly dodged requests for an easement through its property until Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley and Friends of To’jahiilee raised public pressure.

An independent survey valued the easement at $30,000.  The “opening salvo” proposed by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who assisted with negotiations, was $2 million, roughly the amount of the CARES Act federal Coronavirus relief funding received by the Village. Did WAHL get that huge payout? We will never know: A condition of the agreement is that it remain confidential. Remember that WAHL is the company behind the ill-conceived Santolina development — thousands of homes to be built on shifting desert land that lacks water and infrastructure.

In the midst of a pandemic, is a secret deal an ethical solution to a humanitarian crisis?

Featured image: 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 by Robert Apodaca. 

To’hajiilee gets water, but at what price?