Secret negotiations released on Navajo water rights settlement
Navajos are urged to attend the Navajo Nation Council special session on Sept. 29, and persuade the council delegates to vote 'No' to this giveaway of Navajo water rights, which has been negotiated in secret.
Photo by Calvin Johnson
Briefing on the Navajo Nation’s Proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement
The proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement gives away, waives, does not protect, and does not claim the Navajo People’s and Navajo Nation’s priority rights to all waters that fall on, run by or through, or are under the land surface between the Four Sacred Mountains. The proposed Settlement waives, gives away and does not claim --
· Navajo priority water rights -- “first in time, first in right”;
· Navajo water rights established by the Winter’s Supreme Court Doctrine to enough water to serve all purposes for which the Navajo homeland was established; and
· Navajo water rights provided for in Arizona v California to enough water to irrigate all practicably irrigable acreage
The proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement :
· Prohibits any more than 10,000 acres of irrigated agriculture along the Little Colorado River; including building any surface water reservoirs for irrigation;
· Claim only 40,000 acre-feet (25%) of average annual Little Colorado River surface flow;
· Gives Navajo only 32,000 acre-feet per year of 4th Priority Colorado River water –
-- this water will NOT BE AVAILABLE in times of drought ;
-- this water will require over $500 million of new federal funding to deliver the water to our communities – and may not be used for any new farming;
-- this water will be extremely vulnerable to disruption by natural or human causes;
· Gives Navajo no more than 60,000 acre-feet/year total from the C-aquifer in a 36-mile strip of “Protected Areas” along the Navajo Nation south boundary;
· Allows non-Indian users unlimited amounts of C-aquifer water 18 miles south of the Navajo Nation boundary –even though excessive pumping will reduce flows in the River and may bring more salty water to Navajo wells .
· Allow non-Indian water users to pump as much “underground flow” as they want without regard for impact on Navajo use of same aquifers.
· The proposed Settlement waives all Navajo priority and reserved water rights to the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers for other uses forever.
Some More Detail on the Navajo Nation’s Proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement
Surface Waters of the Little Colorado River (LCR)
The proposed Agreement prohibits any future irrigated agriculture beyond some 10,000 acres of farm projects identified along the main-stem of the Little Colorado River between Birdsprings and Cameron.
The Agreement also prohibits the Navajo People from building any new reservoirs for irrigation anywhere; and prohibits any new agriculture on Navajo off-reservation lands.
-- This makes it practically impossible to use the surface flows of the Little Colorado River, which only come an average of four months a year. This also closes the door in the Leupp area to the beneficial use of LCR water on thousands of acres of Class 1 irrigable soils west of North Leupp Farms – completely eliminating Navajo Winters Doctrine rights to enough water to irrigate the major resource area of “practicably irrigable lands” in the LCR Basin.
The proposed Agreement only claims some 40,000 acre-feet per year of Little Colorado River surface flow within the Nation – even though the Navajo Nation has a clear priority right to all that flow.
-- 40,000 acre-feet are only 25% of the average annual flow of 160,000 acre-feet measured at Cameron -- why not claim 50% or 75% or more of this average ? In wet years, there is a great deal more water in the River – for example, in 1973 the highest recorded LCR annual flow at Cameron was over 800,000 acre-feet -- which could be used if there was a storage reservoir along the River.
The proposed Agreement prevents Navajo either from claiming any priority rights, or from claiming any in-stream flows to provide for and protect wildlife, trees, quality of life, cultural or environmental purposes.
The proposed Agreement encourages the Navajo Nation to give up its priority water rights to other interests with less priority.
-- Whatever happened to “first in time first in right…” ? Why should the Navajo Nation give up its priority water right?
Some More Detail on Proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement
The proposed Agreement provides the Navajo Nation with some 31,000 acre-feet per year of 4th Priority * Colorado River main-stem water -- which has to be pumped from Lake Powell at enormous energy and operating and maintenance costs; and which will NOT BE AVAILABLE in times of shortage on the Colorado River.
-- We are in a drought cycle which may well be long-term – like the drought which affected the Anasazi for a century or more. Why is the Navajo Nation making many of our communities totally dependent on water which will not be there in severe drought years?
The proposed Agreement does not clearly quantify how much LCR surface water Navajo has a right to.
-- If the Navajo Nation has a right to unappropriated surface waters, how much LCR surface flow is actually unappropriated – and who has appropriated the rest, and when?
The proposed Agreement prohibits the Navajo Nation from challenging non-Indian use of sub-flow waters -- including waters in the alluvial aquifer -- even though such use takes surface waters to which the Navajo Nation is given a right.
-- For example, folks in Winslow or Holbrook could set up a well field beside the LCR to capture large amounts of the waters of the LCR alluvium without regard for impacts on Navajo water rights
Peabody Coal is allowed to retain its surface water impoundment structures on Black Mesa permanently – why?
For more information on Priorities to Colorado River Surface Water, see --
Priority 1 - Present Perfected Rights (PPRs) as provided for in the Arizona v. California Decree.
Priority 2 - Federal Reservations and Perfected Rights established prior to September 30, 1968
Priority 3 - Contracts between the United States and water users in Arizona executed on or before September 30, 1968
Priority 4 - Entitlements pursuant to contracts and other arrangements between the United States and water users in the State of Arizona entered into subsequent to September 30, 1968, not to exceed 164,652 acre-feet annually;
Priority 5 - Unused Arizona Entitlement
Priority 6 - Surplus Water
Some More Detail on Proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement
Ground Water in LCR Basin C-Aquifer
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, there are about 140,000 acre feet average annual re-charge to the entire C aquifer . This is the maximum sustainable yield for all users – if more water than that is taken out in a given year, the aquifer is being mined and will (eventually) be exhausted. See
The proposed Agreement allows non-Indian users to pump unlimited amounts of C-aquifer water from wells beyond 18 miles south of the Navajo Nation boundary;
-- Even though excessive pumping will reduce flows in the River and may bring salty water to wells on the Navajo Nation (eg, Leupp). Note for example --
“Local heavy withdrawals from the C-aquifer may also cause upward shifting of the salt water interface from the evaporites in the Supai Formation near Joseph City” …
“ Long-term pumping could lead to long-term increases in salinity of pumped water” …
-- Mann, L.J., and Nemecek, E.A., 1983, Geohydrology and water use in southern Apache County, Arizona: Arizona Department of Water Resources, Bulletin 1, 86 p.
The proposed Agreement allows non-Indian users to pump no more than 50,000 acre-feet per year from an 18-mile strip south of the south boundary of the Navajo Nation; and allows no new large capacity wells within 2 miles of the Navajo Nation boundary;
The proposed Agreement allows the Navajo Nation to use no more than 60,000 acre-feet/year total from the C-aquifer in an 18-mile strip of the Navajo Nation, north of the Navajo Nation’s south boundary.
The proposed Agreement prohibits the diversion of any surface waters out of the LCR Basin …
-- But no mention is made of pumping ground water out of the LCR Basin –
as has already been done by Phelps Dodge – who initiated the LCR Adjudication in 1978. This opens the door to down-state folks who are running out of their local water (Verde Valley, Payson, Phoenix, etc) setting up well-fields along the Mogollon Rim to pump as much as they want of the C-aquifer … without regard to possible long-term impacts to the quantity and quality of Navajo Nation C Aquifer water.
There are many other serious concerns with the proposed Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement. The Navajo People must be allowed to study, understand, and decide openly for themselves every aspect of this proposed Agreement which will determine the quality and even the possibility of life for the Dine for all time to come.
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