Coming Together: An Update on Bringing Services to the Community of Westwater

September 30, 2022

During the 2021 General Session, the legislature appropriated $500,000 one-time from the General Fund to the Department of Community and Cultural Engagement for cost-share to assist with bringing services to the community of Westwater, including electricity, drinking water, and sewer from the next-door municipality of Blanding. Westwater is a small community comprised of approximately 29 residences that reside on 120 acres which is owned by the Navajo Tribe; however, the property does not fall inside the boundaries of the Navajo Reservation. Westwater residents have relied on solar power, wind, generators, and transporting water to their homes.

In January of 2022, the Drinking Water Board provided $798,000 in grant funds to the City of Blanding and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) for engineering design of the upgrades and distribution systems necessary to supply drinking water to Westwater. These grant funds are available through the Hardship Grant Program, which is funded by interest payments and fees assessments on loans provided by the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.

During the 2022 General Session, that $500,000 appropriation was transferred to the Department of Environmental Quality, being the agency that regulates both waste and drinking water. Additionally, $3.5 million onetime from the American Rescue Plan Act was set aside to further the efforts of bringing services to the community of Westwater. This amount was a portion of the $25 million allotment the Executive Appropriations Committee reallocated for drinking water projects during their November 2021 meeting.

In July of 2022, an agreement was signed by the State of Utah, Navajo Nation, NTUA, and San Juan County which outlined responsibilities and financial obligations. NTUA will own and operate Westwater’s utilities and also oversee the construction and design of the new system; San Juan County will act as the fiscal agent between the State of Utah and Westwater; and finally, the City of Blanding will supply water and oversee the design and construction of upgrades to the existing system in Blanding.

As of September 1st, San Juan Water Conservancy District has approved the change application for the water rights to supply Westwater, and electrification of eligible homes in the community has been completed. Looking forward, the necessary upgrades for the City of Blanding include the need to drill an additional well, which is currently in the process of engineering design. A long-term agreement outlining distribution and cost will be signed by the City of Blanding and NTUA. Lastly, the new water distribution system for the community of Westwater is currently under design.