Changes to Navajo Nation water rights settlement signed into law

From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examine conditions on the San Juan River on August 11, 2015. Photo from Facebook

President Barack Obama signed S.501, the New Mexico Navajo Water Settlement Technical Corrections Act, into law on Wednesday.

The bill makes changes to a water rights settlement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. Among other technical corrections, it increases the share of funding for cultural and archaeological resource protection by decreasing the share for fish and wildlife programs and it clarifies funding and operations issues.

"Lack of water and infrastructure resources seriously hinders our efforts to fully realize our economic potential. There are currently more than 4,000 homes without water on the Navajo Nation. In addition, current water systems are not sized to accommodate long-term growth and economic development," the tribe said in testimony on H.R.1406, an identical version of the bill, in June. "These technical amendments will provide long-term renewable water supply to reduce the number of homes without water and provide a water supply for economic growth in northwestern New Mexico."

Workers install a pipeline in New Mexico as part of a water rights settlement with the Navajo Nation. Photo from Bureau of Reclamation

Congress approved the water settlement through Section 10601 of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. It resolves the tribe's claims to the San Juan River and authorizes the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project to serve reservation and off-reservation communities.

The San Juan River has been in the news lately because it was polluted by the spill at the abandoned Gold King Mine in neighboring Colorado. Tribal officials testified at three hearings on Capitol Hill and expressed their unhappiness with the way the Environmental Protection Agency has handled the disaster.

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent on May 21. It cleared the House by a voice vote on September 16.

Related Stories:
Congress returns to work and takes action on tribal measures (09/21)
House Natural Resources Committee approves three tribal bills (07/10)
House Natural Resources Committee approves three tribal bills (07/10)
House subcommittee takes up Navajo Nation water bill next week (6/19)

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