Phoenix/ Politics & Govt
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Published on May 26, 2024
Navajo Nation Leads Tribes' Unanimous Endorsement of Long-Awaited Colorado River Water Rights SettlementSource: NASA's Earth Observatory, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a historic move for tribal rights and environmental stewardship, the Navajo Nation, along with the Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes, has unanimously endorsed a sweeping water rights settlement proposal that could bring much-needed infrastructure and secure water supplies for communities across the arid Southwest. As reported by the Associated Press, the proposal, contingent on Congressional approval, represents a milestone in the long battle for water rights by these tribes, who have for decades been grappling with the limitations and inequities embedded in the parched landscape of the Colorado River basin.

The Navajo Nation Council, emphasizing the significance of their decision, stood in unanimous applause after casting their votes. As Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley remarked under a wind-swept sky in Window Rock, Arizona, "This is an opportunity to think 100 years ahead for our children," according to the AP interview. Curley, a mother heralding the promise of future generations, highlighted the historic nature of the decision before signing the legislation amidst celebrations resonant with honking horns.

The proposal also garnered the support of both the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribal Council and the Hopi tribe, with the latter stating the settlement as a path towards a future of health, prosperity, and fulfillment of their covenant to live as stewards of their ancestral lands. The deal, seeking upwards of $5 billion, includes $1.75 billion earmarked for a pipeline extending from Lake Powell, aiming to quench the homes on the Navajo Nation that have long been without running water— a striking figure representing nearly a third of all residences across the expanse of the tribe's 27,000 square mile territory.

Upon reaching the desk of Navajo President Buu Nygren, the legislation is expected to be promptly signed, clearing the path for the tribes to lobby Congress for enactment. The Navajo Nation, already having faced the sting of conservative Supreme Court rulings denying binding treaties guaranteeing water, is keen on advancing this vital step, as heartfelt by Nygren in his communications with the press.

Historical exclusion from a 1922 pact that divided the vital waters among seven states left the tribes in an ongoing struggle for a resource that has buttressed burgeoning desert metropolises like Phoenix and Las Vegas. This settlement now seeks water from diverse sources, including the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, local aquifers, and tribal land washes in northeastern Arizona, seeking to rectify a century of neglect and imbalance.

Yet, the resolution arrives not simply as an act of redress but as a preemptive measure in a changing climate with a river under duress. With Arizona holding allocations from both the Colorado River's Upper and Lower Basins, the settlement assures a more certain future for the state's water availability. Arizona water officials, acknowledging the venture’s benefits, espouse the leasing authority as a critical element of the deal, potentially integrating tribal water rights into a broader state strategy of conservation and development.