The project was among 14 that Obama's administration selected for expedited review as part of the president's effort to more quickly approve job-creating infrastructure projects. The project will build two water treatment plants, 24 pumping plants and numerous water regulation and storage facilities on and near the Navajo reservation, where employment hovers around 50 percent.
The first four miles of pipeline are scheduled to be laid this spring, on a different section that originally intended.
Rather than starting at the river west of Farmington, N.M., the first phase of the project will be in Twin Lakes, drawing from an aquifer beneath the community and sending the groundwater through the city of Gallup's water system to Navajo towns on the outskirts of Gallup.
"What we're trying to do is get water to people as quickly as we can," said Barry Longwell, of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Four Corners Consultation Office. "There's a surplus of water within that Twin Lakes area. We want to tie into existing wells there."
Gallup-area residents will see water from Twin Lakes in about a year if the schedule holds, but water from the San Juan River wouldn't flow through the pipeline for another six years or more, said John.
The tribe's utility has about 1,400 water customers in the Gallup area, and the supply can run short from high use in the summer or with waterline breaks, said Navajo Tribal Utility Authority spokeswoman Deenise Becenti.
"Any increase in the supply will indeed be a blessing," Becenti said. "There are families still without running water. There are a number of people moving back to their home communities, and there is continued talk of promoting and increasing water development. All of these issues will require an abundant supply of water."
The lone holdout in Twin Lakes, Bob Sandoval, told officials he doesn't have a water line to his home, although he applied in 2009.
John said tribal officials will support Sandoval's application, which must receive final approval from Shelly's office, but not as a condition of securing his approval for the project.
Sandoval did not return repeated calls from The Associated Press.
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