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.
Former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced SB 2019, the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement and Act of 2012, in February of that year.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the bill’s only cosponsor. Under this settlement, the Navajo Nation would be required to permanently waive their aboriginal (as in first priority) rights to the Little Colorado River (LCR) watershed in exchange for promises from Congress for two water delivery projects serving two (out of 110) communities.
Additionally, the Nation wanted a comprehensive rather than piecemeal deal and this Settlement was not comprehensive.
It lacked many components the Dineh people asked for.
This settlement also would have supported the ongoing environmental injustices caused by the coal economy on Navajo Nation. More specifically, it would have made water delivery to Navajo and Hopi communities contingent upon the renewal of various leases – for transmission lines, coal and water supplies – for the Navajo Generating Station through 2044.
Another issue is that the settlement did not actually quantify Navajo water rights to the LCR and did not allow for fair compensation for Navajo water from the LCR.
Upstream users were allocated and guaranteed specific amounts of water, even in times of drought, and the Navajo Nation was not.
Lastly, the process to approve the settlement completely excluded the Navajo people and their actual needs for water. It was introduced in a press release from Senator Kyl’s office before it was even introduced to the Navajo Tribal Council and the dense language was never explained to the Navajo People.
The Navajo People organized, educated themselves, and convinced their leaders to vote no.
This will continue to be an issue but for now the bill is dead [www.ncrp.org].