Water project to bring running water to southern Utah community for the first time
Nov 13, 2023, 11:16 AM | Updated: Nov 14, 2023, 9:18 am
WESTWATER, San Juan County — A small community in southern Utah still doesn’t have running water. Though, a new project is in the works that could bring water to their homes by 2024.
In a canyon just outside of Blanding springs is an artesian well that has long filled the needs of the community in the area.
The community is called Westwater, and it consists of 29 homes. Its people have relied on the well as their only source of water for years, until Blanding City and others decided to do something to help.
“Just imagine if you turn on your faucet and nothing comes out of there—there’s anxiety and stress, and all the that comes along with it,” said Thomas Chee, the President of the Westwater community.
That’s how Chee and many other residents in the community, like Renae Gene, grew up.
Gene was born and raised in Westwater and experienced having no water or electricity.
“It was pretty harsh,” said Gene.
Gene hauls water for many members of the community after she fills up her 1,000-gallon tank.
The tank lasts two weeks and is filtered through a motor for her family of five.
When the city water is closed for the weekends, Gene and other residents take five-gallon buckets and fill them up at the artesian well.
With electricity, the community has now turned to getting running water. It’s called the Westwater Project and involves collaborating with the Navajo Nation, Blanding City, the State of Utah and other stakeholders.
At a Blanding City Council meeting in August, updates from project managers showed progress in the planning.
Blanding City Mayor Logan Monson said if all goes well, Westwater could have running water by next summer.
“Running water? I think that that’s the final step,” Monson said.
The mayor has worked on making sure contracts, agreements and funding between the Navajo Nation, Westwater and Blanding are in place.
The current system allows residents to buy 1,000 gallons of clean water from Blanding for $10.
Blanding city officials are working on a new water station for the community while they wait for the project’s completion.
“They can haul their water, put it in a tank and then turn on a sink,” Monson said.
Blanding constructed a well that can airlift 150 gallons per minute. Plans for a pump house and treatment house are underway.
Ryan Barton with the Navajo Nation said the water line will follow the powerlines.
“Having access to water and electricity, it gives you more time for other parts of your life to focus on instead of hauling water,” said Barton.
The project design is 60% complete, according to project manager Corey Higdon.
“I think it’s just touching that everyone has been able to come together to collaborate and see this to fruition because it is a basic necessity that all should be afforded,” said Higdon.
Higdon grew up on the reservation, where many families face the same challenges as those in Westwater.
“We’re having to come up with unique ways to design the water line,” said Higdon. “We’re up against some archaeological sites.”
The artesian well is one of those sites that residents hope to preserve.
Current plans show Blanding annexing and claiming the spot, but when Chee took project managers to the well, he explained that water has sacred significance to their people.
“You can take water, but you can also leave behind whatever is bothering you, whatever is ailing you,” Clayton Long, a mentor at Utah State University in Blanding.
“The water is like a healer,” Long said.