HCN: Water right settlement contentious within Navajo Nation

"The Navajo Nation sprawls across about one-tenth of the nearly quarter-million-square-mile Colorado River drainage. But ever since the seven states that depend on the river met to divide its water 88 years ago, the tribe has been pushed into the shadows of river politics. About 40 percent of the reservation's roughly 170,000 residents still don't have drinking water piped into their homes and must haul it from miles away.

For years, the tribe has been asserting its right to Colorado River water through a series of legal settlements with the states of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, each of which includes a portion of the Navajo Reservation. In 2004, the Navajo Nation received rights to 326,000 acre-feet of water from New Mexico; negotiations with Utah are inching closer to completion.

And, in November, the Navajo tribal council approved a deal with Arizona for the right to water from the Colorado River and one of its tributaries, and from two giant aquifers that lie beneath the reservation. Equally important, the settlement includes $693 million to build the pipelines and other infrastructure needed to get water to 20 reservation communities.

But some Navajos are angry about what's not in the settlement: A lot more water. Given the tribe's bitter history of being cheated out of its resources, they believe it should have demanded millions of acre-feet more water, based on treaty rights. "Every time there's a resource found on the reservation, they come after it, like the uranium," says Ron Milford, a principal organizer of opposition to the settlement. "We really got scammed big time.""

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In Navajoland, a contentious water deal divides the tribe (High Country News 2/22)

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