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.

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Basic Data
NameWater Rights of the Dineh-Navajo Tribe, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceNew Mexico
SiteSan 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 CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsDine’ 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 (http://www.poormagazine.org/node/3324) and historical relations between U.S. government and Dineh Navajo have not seen much fruit.

Water Use (http://www.frontiernet.net/~nndwr_wmb/water_monitoring__inventory.htm):

Total Navajo domestic water use is approximately 12,000 acre-feet annually. Forty percent of the Navajo Nation households haul water for domestic use. Navajo per capita water use on the reservation ranges from 10 gallons per day for water haulers to 100 gallons per day for those living in larger communities and have running water. Most non-Navajo communities in the region use more than 200 gallons per day.

Approximately 20,000 acres of small Navajo farms use approximately 100,000 acre-feet of water annually. This acreage does not include historically irrigated lands.

The Navajo Indian Irrigation Project irrigates approximately 60,000 acres and diverts approximately 206,000 acre-feet per year. When completed, it will irrigate 110,630 acres of land and divert 508,000 acre-feet per year.

The estimated 300,000 permitted animal units obtain water from approximately 900 windmills and 7,000 stock ponds across the Navajo Nation.

Industrial and mining water use in the region is approximately 75,000 acre-feet per year. In Black Mesa, Arizona, the Peabody Coal Company uses approximately 4,500 acre-feet annually.

Note: 1 acre-feet equals 325,851 gallons
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population160-140,000 (2011 Navajo population estimate in Arizona)
Start Date1950
Relevant government actorsUS Government, Navajo Nation, State of Arizona
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersConcerned 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
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment 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-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Development of AlternativesFormer 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 (http://www.daily-times.com/ci_23896295/navajo-water-rights-settlement-approved-aztec-district-court).
Sources and Materials

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]

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]


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

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

[click to view]


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

Native News Network
[click to view]

Daily Times
[click to view]

A long historical campaign of genocide against the Dineh
[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]

[1] Diné Water Rights
[click to view]

Media Links

Water Rights March Video
[click to view]

Other Documents

Protests against visit by 2 US Senators McCain and Kyl to Navajo Nation
[click to view]

Protests against Senate Bill 2109 SB2109 would further restrict tribal access to water
[click to view]

Other CommentsThis 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
ContributorBernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015