Utah community has no running water or electricity and lawmakers urged to fix it
WESTWATER, Utah – Renae Gene welcomed the politicians to her home.
“I never expected so many people in my backyard,” she told FOX 13 as members of the Legislature, State Treasurer, Navajo Nation Vice President and a few journalists were walking.
Gene lives here in Westwater, a small community of about 30 homes just outside Blanding that has no running water or electricity.
âWe had to use oil, candles and stuff before 2010,â she said, explaining how she and her family are doing. “We are trying to do our best to make everything work.”
She has solar power now. Twice a week, she transports water by truck for her neighbors to use as well.
âBefore winter we try to get as much wood as possible because it is quite cold,â said Gene, pointing to a pile of wood outside his house used for heating.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson pointed out Blanding – visibly – where the houses had manicured green lawns.
âIt doesn’t make sense that we have a community like this here in our state. We have to take care of our own,â she told FOX 13. âThey are citizens of the state of l ‘Utah who deserve to have running water. Who deserve to have electricity, who deserve to have political leaders who can come together to finally solve this problem. “
Why the community of Westwater lacks infrastructure in 2021 is complicated. The land is technically owned by the Navajo Nation, who purchased it in 1986 from the Bureau of Land Management for its members. But it’s also not directly related to the tribe, so it’s a part of Utah as well.
“The rulers at the time had their hearts in the right place. They bought the land for the people with the hope, I’m sure they would bring water and electricity one day soon,” he said. Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said in an interview. with FOX 13 Wednesday. “Well, that soon turned in 35 years. How does that happen? Well, politics and government and all the bureaucracy and red tape and bottlenecks.”
Lieutenant Governor Henderson arranged for members of the Utah State Legislature to travel to Blanding to see Westwater for themselves. She lobbied for the legislature to spend federal stimulus funds to bring water to the community, bringing together leaders from the city of Blanding, the Navajo Nation and others to finally make it happen. But the project could end up costing millions of dollars.
âIt will be a huge project when all is said and done,â said Vice President Lizer.
In 2020, representative Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, urged his colleagues in the Legislature to appropriate $ 500,000 to help the people of Westwater. He pushed for weeks to get that money.
“It’s one of those things that if we can’t do it this year, I don’t know if we’ll have the opportunity to do it again,” he said on Wednesday. “I am determined. The lieutenant governor is determined. I think it will happen.”
With plenty of American Rescue Plan Act money to spend this year, lawmakers in Utah have been hit by numerous requests for funding. When asked why they weren’t just moving to nearby Blanding, Gene replied, “This is our community and our home.”
Some Westwater residents have also heard the pledges of help before. Gladys Cly listened to the politicians, then threw her arms up and pounced on them.
âThere is one promise too many,â she said. âI have been here. Everything was shattered.
âAll of the promises made by the Town of Blanding to get water here is too big for Blanding,â replied Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green.
“If you’re going to do something, just tell the person that it might or won’t happen,” Cly told him.
âThere is no promise, there is hope,â he said.
Lieutenant Governor Henderson then thanked Cly for sharing his frustrations with lawmakers. After visiting Gene’s house and driving into Westwater, some lawmakers appeared willing to help.
âI think we can all see there is a need here,â said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who is the budget chief of the Utah Senate. “This can be done.”
He told FOX 13 that he believes they could donate a few million dollars to meet infrastructure needs. The town of Blanding recently voted to allow Westwater to connect to its systems and tribal entities can help with electricity. Some discussed funding a well project in Blanding that would benefit both communities.
âI always wanted us to be a community,â said Representative Lyman. “Not two communities.”
Gene thanked them all for coming and told FOX 13 that she hoped they would help.
âIt would be nice,â she said. “It would be really, really nice to have it where I could just go inside, turn on my heater and just say ‘Yes!'”