Interior secretary signs Navajo water settlement
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Ten of thousands of Navajos will finally enjoy running water in their homes under a national settlement that quantifies the tribe’s water rights in the lower Colorado River basin, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday.
Salazar and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. signed the San Juan Navajo Water Rights Settlement during the Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference in Las Vegas.
The agreement attempts to resolve a 142-year-old dispute. The completed legislation recognizes about 600,000 acre-feet per year that would go to the Navajos for agriculture, industrial, municipal, domestic and stock watering purposes.
An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.
Government officials say it will provide a long-term clean water supply that will improve health conditions on the reservation and pave the way for future economic development in northwestern New Mexico.
“Because of these settlements now, we are going to bring water into the dwellings of my people,” Shirley said.
Salazar said the contract will transform the lives of people who often must haul water to their homes in truck beds.
New Mexico and the tribe signed the agreement in 2005, but Congress had to enact legislation to implement the settlement. The bill initially stalled over concern for the nearly $900 million price tag.
The series of water lines that are expected to deliver clean water to 80,000 residents on the eastern side of the reservation aren’t complete.
Proponents say the lack of potable water has made it nearly impossible for many Navajos to pass the poverty level. Critics say the Navajo Nation would receive a large amount of water to serve a small population.
Salazar said declining water levels at the Hoover Dam and along the Colorado River signal future troubles, but urged states to work together to prepare for the future.
“This has been the driest 11-year period in the 122-year historical record for the Colorado River basin,” he said. “The countless communities that rely on the river to sustain them are being forced to make tough choices.”
Salazar said years of conflict between the states and the federal government over water rights have already matured into working partnerships.
“We must not recreate those water wars of the last century,” he added. “The road of cooperation is a preferable road.”
Roughly 800 attendees are expected at the conference that focuses on the water-use agreement covering California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. That plan affects more than 30 million people living in the West.
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