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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Governor Prioritizes Plan To Bring Power And Water To Navajo Community Of Westwater

A trailer, a shack and a house with solar panels sit on a hill in the foreground, and a large house sits on a hill in the background.
Kate Groetzinger/KUER
A shallow canyon separates the small Navajo community of Westwater, seen in the forefront, from the town of Blanding, in the background. Most people in Westwater, which does not have power or running water, rely on solar panels and haul water from town.

WESTWATER — Just across a shallow canyon from Blanding, around 20 Navajo families live here in small homes and trailers. They rely on solar panels for electricity and haul their water from town, while — less than half a mile away — Blanding residents run dishwashers and appliances off a municipal power and water supply. 

Gladys Cly moved to this primitive enclave with her husband 20 years ago, and she says she’s been hearing about efforts to bring city services to the area since before she arrived. 

“If everyone could pull together, I think a lot of this burden would be lifted. But they don’t,” she said. 

The Navajo Nation bought the land beneath Westwater from the state in the 1980s, but Navajo families have lived there for over a century. 

For years, Blanding city officials have refused to extend water and power lines to Westwater, citing the high price of the project. And the Navajo Nation hasn’t put up any money for the project either. But Cly’s hope could soon become a reality, as the Governor’s Office is leading an effort to bring stakeholders together to fund the estimated $2 million project. 

The Governor’s Office is seeking funding from the State Legislature, the Utah Navajo Trust Fund and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the project, according to Mike Mower, Gov. Gary Herbert’s deputy chief of staff.

The latest movement came Wednesday when Larry Echo Hawk, who serves as an advisor to Herbert, and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, presented a $500,000 funding request to a House appropriations subcommittee.

Echo Hawk said he visited all eight federally recognized tribes in Utah and suggested the Westwater project as a legislative funding priority to Herbert, who included it in his 2021 budget recommendations to the Legislature. At the hearing, Echo Hawk called the request a “humanitarian aid proposal.” 

“Efforts have been underway for over 30 years to bring these services to this community,” he said. “When I visited one of the homes there, [there were] three generations in one home. These are poor people.”

Still, the people there don’t get much help from the Navajo Nation or the state, according to Lyman, who told the committee that Utah Navajos are generally overlooked because of their jurisdictional situation. 

“The Utah Navajos are kind of left out from state politics because they’re on Navajo Nation; they’re kind of left out from Navajo politics because they are viewed as having tTrust fFund money,” he said, referring to the Utah Navajo Trust Fund, which contains money derived from oil and gas extraction on the Utah strip of the Navajo Nation.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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