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Securing its Future with the Navajo Nation's Historic Water Rights Settlement in Arizona

April 29, 2024

Securing its Future with the Navajo Nation's Historic Water Rights Settlement in Arizona

Remanence of a water trough and some structure in the dirt below a tree covered hill under blue skies and white clouds.

The Navajo Nation is on the verge of finalizing a water rights settlement in Arizona, marking the culmination of a lengthy negotiation process that spans several decades. This historic agreement aims to resolve the Navajo Nation's water claims in the state. It is expected to significantly boost the community, particularly the thousands of residents who currently lack access to running water.

For over 60 years, the Navajo leadership has been actively engaged in efforts to secure water rights in Arizona. The primary goal of the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement is to officially recognize and quantify the Navajo Nation's water rights within the state. Furthermore, it seeks to secure the necessary funding to develop and implement water delivery infrastructure for Navajo homes.

Navajo Nation Speaker Crystalyne Curley highlighted the urgent need for action on water rights, exacerbated by challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and ongoing drought conditions. The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer, which found the United States did not have a treaty or trust obligation to identify and account for Navajo Nation water rights on the Colorado River, acted as a catalyst for the Navajo Nation to prioritize the settlement of their water claims.

In April last year, the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission established a negotiation team consisting of council delegates, the Office of the President and Vice-President, and several other key departments and consultants. This team has since dedicated countless hours to discussions with various stakeholders to finalize the settlement details.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren expressed that reaching a water rights settlement has been a top priority since his first day in office. He anticipates that once negotiations are complete, the agreement will be reviewed by the council delegates and the public, followed by seeking approval and funding from Congress to implement the necessary water infrastructure.

The settlement agreement is comprehensive, covering the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and San Juan Southern Paiute water rights for the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River, the Little Colorado River basin, the Gila River Basin, and claims to groundwater. It will secure 44,700 acre-feet per year from Arizona's allocation of the Upper Basin Colorado River water for the Navajo Nation and 2,300 acre-feet per year for the Hopi Tribe, among other provisions.

This agreement is crucial to ensuring water security, supporting healthy communities, and fostering economic growth for the Navajo Nation. The proposed settlement, if approved, will be a significant milestone in a more than 100-year history of water rights settlements, affirming the Navajo Nation's commitment to securing a sustainable water future for its people.

Read more by visiting the Arizona Republic's azcentral.


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