Feb 172012

U.S. Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain introduced the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act Tuesday, which is legislation that would settle the legal claims of northern Arizona tribes to water from the Little Colorado River.

According to a press release issued by the two senators, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe will waive their claims to the Little Colorado River in exchange for three water-delivery projects that will bring drinking water to the reservations. Under the agreement, the Navajo Nation has also agreed to dismiss additional claims against the United States regarding management of the Lower Colorado River. Those claims specifically affect water policy and water management in Arizona, California and Nevada. Finally, the agreement authorizes the reallocation of 6,411 acre-feet of water to the Navajo Nation for delivery through the Navajo-Gallup pipeline. The reallocation will occur if and when the tribes agree to extend the leases and other agreements associated with the Navajo Generating Station.

“Introduction of this settlement act marks the next step in a two decades long process to resolve the water rights claims of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe,” said Senator Kyl. “It brings us one step closer to addressing the significant water needs of impoverished areas on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, while also providing certainty for non-Indian communities trying to plan for their water future.”

“This bill would bring resolution to a lengthy legal battle concerning the aboriginal water claims of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe,” said Senator McCain. “I appreciate the hard work of my colleague, Senator Jon Kyl, who has worked diligently on this compromise for the past several years. Arizona has long benefited from his expertise on these complex issues. While the cost of this settlement is significant, we are committed to ensuring that it is properly offset by reductions in direct spending elsewhere in the budget.”

Under the settlement act, the Navajo Nation would receive two groundwater projects: the Leupp-Dilkon Groundwater Project and the Ganado Groundwater Project. The Hopi Tribe would receive the Hopi Groundwater Project serving the Hopi Villages.

Under the agreement, Arizona municipalities and private landowners near the reservation would no longer be at risk of protracted litigation, nor will they face the threat of having to curtail existing water uses because of the impact those uses could have on the tribes’ water rights. Entities in Arizona, California and Nevada would also receive certainty by not having to litigate the complex regulatory schemes they established for distributing surplus water supplies, banking water or managing water use in southern California. Finally, the participants in the Navajo Generating Station, including users of the Central Arizona Project, would receive the added benefit of its continued operation.