Dec. 9—Santo Domingo Pueblo is preparing for construction of a new $19 million water treatment plant to replace an aging system and provide a sixfold increase in its volume of treated water.
Tribal leaders and state government officials who gathered at the site for a groundbreaking event Wednesday said the plant, part of a larger project of overhauling a sewer system that dates to the 1960s, will serve the community for decades and will allow for residential and economic growth.
Without the plant, Tribal Programs Administrator Herman Sanchez said, "There's no way to build more homes."
Many tribal members now live in multigenerational and multifamily homes, officials said, and are in dire need of more housing.
State Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said Santo Domingo's new plant "provides them a future, so that they are not trapped into feeling like they are something that is lesser than."
The tribe has about 5,000 members, including about 2,500 who live in about 750 homes on the pueblo, which lies along the Rio Grande about 35 miles southwest of Santa Fe.
Kevin Montoya, director of Santo Domingo's Tribal Utility Authority, who is leading the project, said the pueblo now has a "dilapidated and outdated sewer system." He expects the new plant to be completed in spring 2023.
In addition to new homes, the pueblo plans to build new businesses, including a grocery store and a laundromat. "Those types of essential needs that they're currently traveling to towns or cities where they provide that," Montoya said.
It was unclear when the entire sewer system renovation, estimated to cost $40 million, would be complete.
Sanchez said funding for the project will come from two federal pandemic aid initiatives — the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act — as well as state capital outlay and tribal infrastructure funds, and the pueblo's own money.
Jerry Paz, chief operations officer for the engineering firm Molzen Corbin, which designed the wastewater plant, said the pueblo can treat 125,000 gallons of wastewater per day with its current system. When the new plant is up and running, he said, that number will increase to 750,000, some of which can be used for irrigation.
The decades-old sewer pipes are made from clay, which can break when tree roots try to access the water inside them. The new sewer pipes will be PVC.
Paz said there is concern in the community about digging in the pueblo, so his company is looking at lining the existing clay pipes with PVC pipes.
"When you have a place that's occupied for many, many generations, the archaeological resources that are down there are of importance to the community," he said. "We want to be respectful of that and not over-excavate."