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Utes are awarded a $9 million grant for water upgrades

Money will go toward four public works projects in Towaoc, White Mesa
During a ceremony Friday in Towaoc, Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart discussed the importance of a $9 million federal grant awarded to the tribe to upgrade municipal infrastructure in Towaoc and White Mesa.

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe has been awarded a $9 million federal grant to upgrade its water infrastructure and wastewater facilities on the reservation.

The grant, issued through rural development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will pay for two municipal projects in Towaoc and two in White Mesa, the tribe’s satellite community in southeast Utah.

“We are ecstatic and thankful for this funding because our infrastructure is in dire need of repairs and upgrades,” said Ute Mountain Ute planning director Bernadette Cuthair. “Maintaining these aging and outdated systems has been a real financial challenge for the tribe.”

In Towaoc, the tribe’s headquarters, $1.9 million was allocated to expand and upgrade the wastewater treatment facility. A new lagoon cell will be created, and an additional lift station installed.

“This upgrade will support a new housing project south of the community,” Cuthair said.

Also in Towaoc, $3.5 million was allocated to install water meters to homes and replace cast-iron piping with safer PVC pipes.

“We will be able to better manage our limited water sources and detect leaks with this improvement,” Cuthair said. “The piping in the old housing development and government buildings is in bad shape.”

In White Mesa, $1.6 million will go toward installing a new water-treatment plant and distribution system to provide safe drinking water for the community. White Mesa currently draws drinking water from two wells, but one isn’t working and is slated for repair, Cuthair said.

The tribe has expressed concerns that the White Mesa uranium mill, which is adjacent to tribal land, could contaminate groundwater.

“With the mill so close, it is crucial we put in a modern treatment system to ensure safe water for the community,” Cuthair said. “The grant funding will also go toward long-term maintenance of the new plant.”

Also in White Mesa, $1.9 million was allocated to repair an aging wastewater treatment system and build a public works building.

Lagoons will be repaired, including replacement of liners, and the area will be cleared of problematic trees and weeds. A more secure fence and gate system will be installed around the facility as well.

“The plan is to take out a berm separating two cells and make it into a larger cell that can handle more capacity as the community grows,” Cuthair said. The new public works building will be a first for the White Mesa community of 200 residents.

Under USDA rules, the four projects will be put out for competitive bidding, Cuthair said. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2017.

The USDA plans to film construction and interview tribal members as part of a documentary on the project.


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