Last update:

Water Rights of the Dineh-Navajo Tribe, USA


In December of 2010 a court settlement granted the Navajo Nation increased access to and usage of water from the San Juan River. This was the culmination of a long history of legal battles but there is still very strong tension between local agriculture and the Navajo People over water rights and usage.

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Water Rights of the Dineh-Navajo Tribe, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New Mexico
Location of conflict:San Juan River
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Dine’ community members have raised concerns that Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement (NAIWRSA) gives the Navajo Nation only 31,000 acre-feet per year of 4th Priority Colorado River water, which would not be available in times of drought, and would require more than $500 million of new federal funding to pay for pipeline infrastructure to deliver water to communities in need. The federal funding would have to be appropriated by U.S. Congress ( and historical relations between U.S. government and Dineh Navajo have not seen much fruit.

See more
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:160-140,000 (2011 Navajo population estimate in Arizona)
Start of the conflict:1950
Relevant government actors:US Government, Navajo Nation, State of Arizona
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Concerned Citizens for Diné Water Rights, Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, Dine’ Care, To’ Nizhoni Ani’, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto, ECHOES
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Development of alternatives:Former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald suggested that Navajos should control and undertake the study of the aquifer themselves and this includes paying for it. He stated that Navajo should not only do a study, but develop the well and own it. Thirdly, he argues that the Navajo Nation must control the usage and allocation of that C-aquifer (the specific aquifer where they get their water from).
MacDonald said that “If anybody wants to use that water that the Navajo Nation developed, then
it’s up to the Navajo Nation how they’re going to allocate that.” If Mohave Generating Station or Peabody want water, he said, “Then, ‘OK, how
much are you willing to pay?’
“Charge for the use of the water. That’s the bottom line so far as I’m concerned, and it’s doable,” MacDonald said. “It’s doable all the way around. And there’s no reason why the Navajo Nation should beg and beg and kneel down to MGS and Southern California Edison and Peabody. They don’t need to do that.” [1]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Navajo Nation has endured a long history of environmental injustice with corporations and government agencies continually desecrating their rights. In 2013, the Navajo received a court victory that assured them of their water rights. It is hard to be sure that this will result in subsequent action in line with this law. Only time will tell. Some say the decision will be appealed (
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Proposed Navajo Nation Council Resolution Water Rights Settlement 2010 (Navajo Nation does not support this)
[click to view]

Navajo President Shelly Praises Courts Decision Regarding Navajo Water Rights
[click to view]

Proposed San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement signed in April 2005 and settlement signed in 2010 that fulfilled the 2005 agreement. This aggrement allocates more than 600,000 acre-feet of diversions and 325,67
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

How Underfunded Native Nonprofits Beat the Odds to Protect Water Rights
[click to view]

In Historic Vote, UN Declares Water a Fundamental Human Right
[click to view]

[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Navajo water rights: Truths and betrayals
[click to view]

Daily Times
[click to view]

Native News Network
[click to view]

From the frontlines of the water wars: Diné and Hopi water rights at risk, protesters gather on Navajo Nation
[click to view]

Navajo Council votes 'No!' to Little Colorado River water rights theft
[click to view]

A long historical campaign of genocide against the Dineh
[click to view]

[1] Diné Water Rights
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Water Rights March Video
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.