FARMINGTON - The Navajo Nation is expected to spend about $2.8 million to repair its out-of-date water pipeline system, but it will be a long time before it gets the funding to replace it.
The current system dates back to the 1950s and mainly consists of concrete and clay piping. A cold snap last month caused pipes to crack and left an estimated 2,000 families without water.
"We are facing an emergency that is putting lives at risk," said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly on Monday.
Some homes have been without water for months, officials say, and many others for weeks.
Crews from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority have responded to about 940 reported water outages, though they still have about 730 to get to. Crews from the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority and the Salt River Project also are responding.
Crownpoint and Shiprock have the most reports yet to be evaluated, according to Erny Zah, spokesman for the Office of the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation.
More than a week has passed since the president declared a state of emergency for the tribe. Shelly today is writing a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, alerting them of the situation.
The tribe is hoping that FEMA will reimburse the $2.8 million spent on repairs.
The tribe also is looking for volunteers to help the crews currently tending to the pipelines.
"I know our crews are working hard and we need to help them," Shelly said.
With the system aging quickly, however, the concern is that this could become a regular occurrence. The pipes are getting older, and many of them have been repaired multiple times, Zah said.
"In all my years, I've never seen anything like this," Zah said Monday. "People are starting to get an idea of how serious this is."
The tribe will not be able to afford the replacement of its piping system, though, any time soon, Zah said. The money likely will be spent on annual repairs, he said.
"It's a catch-22," he said. "The forecast for this weekend is another freeze."