On January 27, 2016, the Navajo Nation Council announced that it had approved the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement to quantify and settle the tribe’s water rights claims in Utah. The settlement agreement is the product of negotiations that began in 2003 with an MOU between the tribe and the State of Utah.
The settlement would give the tribe 81,500 AF/year of Utah’s Upper Colorado River Basin water. The water would come from diversion of up to 435 cfs from the San Juan River, with the difference coming from groundwater and Lake Powell. The tribe would have the right to market or lease the water under the same conditions as other water right holders in Utah.
Most of the water would have a priority date of May 17, 1884, but it will be subordinate to existing uses, except in the case of an Upper Basin shortage, when the state would administer water rights according to priority.
In addition, the federal government would create a $198.3 million trust fund for construction of water projects in Navajo communities in Utah. Council Delegate David Filfred, who sponsored the Navajo legislation (Leg. No. 0412-15) capitalized on that term, arguing that the settlement would provide the Navajo Nation with funding for necessary infrastructure development.
Before it can be implemented, the settlement will need to be approved by the Utah legislation and the U.S. Congress. The Utah legislature passed a resolution last year supporting the settlement, but neither body has yet to introduce authorizing legislation. If the settlement is substantively changed by Congress, the Navajo Nation has the right to review and reconsider it.
Written by Marta L. Weismann