Guest column: Passage of Senate Bill 2109 will secure reliable water supplies

Many of you have asked how I feel about the Senate Bill 2109, the proposed Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Settlement Act of 2012 and the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement, (collectively, "the LCR Settlement"). I thank you for your inquiries and take this opportunity to express my support for the LCR Settlement and state the reasons for my support.

While our lawyers, on our behalf, have asserted for many years that the Navajo Nation is entitled to every drop of water in the Little Colorado River Basin, the Little Colorado River continues to flow past the Navajo Nation and almost half of our households continue to haul water. While our communities cannot access and use the Little Colorado River water, communities off Navajo Nation are putting that water to use and have done so for years. The question is simply do we allow this to continue or do we take this opportunity to tie down our water rights.

Insisting on rights to all the surface water and ground water in the Little Colorado River Basin, which no court would ever award to us, is not an effective strategy. Instead, we are better served by a water rights settlement that ensures water supplies for our lands in the Arizona Lower Basin and for our land to serve as a permanent homeland. At the same time, such a water settlement requires Congressional funding and support from the Lower Basin States to secure federal funds necessary to construct water delivery systems.

A water delivery infrastructure is critical to access and to use water from the Little Colorado River. It is difficult especially in this economic time, to get federal funding for water projects in Indian Country. The Congressional legislation to approve the LCR Settlement, Senate Bill 2109, is sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl. Sen. Kyl is very knowledgeable concerning water rights and is the Senate Republican Whip, a powerful position in Congress. He is retiring in January. Once he retires, getting the LCR Settlement passed by the partisan and divided U.S. Congress will be very difficult. We need to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Sen. Kyl's leadership position.

The LCR Settlement will provide two groundwater projects. First is the Leupp-Dilkon Regional Groundwater Project, which will provide water delivery system to serve Leupp, Bird Springs, Tolani Lake, Teesto, Dilkon, Indian Wells, Lower Greasewood and White Cone chapters. Second is the Ganado Regional Groundwater Project, which will serve Ganado, Kinlichee, Jeddito, Cornfields, Steamboat, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins chapters. The projects will provide clean, reliable drinking water to our people in these communities and water supply for our livestock. The LCR Settlement will provide water supply for Arizona communities to be served by the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project secured by the San Juan River Settlement. This is our "first straw" to the Colorado River.

The LCR Settlement also lays the groundwork for the construction of the Western Navajo Water Pipeline. When the Western Navajo Water Pipeline is agreed to, funded and constructed, it will provide the Navajo Nation with a "second straw" to divert Colorado River water for our use.

It is very significant that the LCR Settlement imposes strict and clear restrictions on non-Indian water uses off Navajo Nation. These restrictions protect our groundwater and surface water rights and guarantees water supplies going forward. We can quantify our water rights and secure water supplies for our children, grandchildren and our future generation.

The LCR Settlement, like all settlements, is not perfect. It does not give us everything we feel we are entitled to. Senate Bill 2109 includes some elements that are objectionable, like the requirement that the Navajo Generating Station lease be extended. But that element however objectionable, is necessary in order to get Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project water (secured through the San Juan River Water Settlement) to Arizona communities.

If we do not approve and support the LCR Settlement, the alternative is more decades of fruitless litigation. We will spend more years sitting on the hill top watching the Little Colorado River flow off Navajo Nation and saying "all that water belongs to the Navajo people." To me that is not acceptable.

There is an important reality that we should not lose sight of. The NGS extension and the Peabody mine are only short term commitments. At some point, the mine will run out of coal and NGS will not have any more coal to continue to operate. On the other hand, the water we gain through the LCR Settlement will last much longer.

We know that clean water is essential for life. Without the LCR Settlement, the underlying litigation, which is already 40-years-old, will go on forever; our People will continue an existence limited from reaching their full potential by inadequate and unhealthy water supplies.

I urge your support of the LCR Settlement. I urge the Navajo Nation Council to pass legislation approving the LCR Settlement. The LCR Settlement will secure reliable water supplies for our Nation and our children and for generations to come.

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