A proposed project that would divert hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water from the San Juan River is being discussed in a series of public meetings in northwestern New Mexico. The first meeting on the Navajo water rights settlement was scheduled for Wednesday evening in Shiprock. More meetings were planned over the next several days.
The settlement quantifies the Navajo Nation’s rights to water from the lower Colorado River basin in Arizona and settles claims made by the Hopi Tribe. As part of the settlement, Indian communities would have access to new pipelines carrying more than 600,000 acre-feet of water each year.
New Mexico State Engineer John D’Antonio said the project avoids expensive litigation, protects non-Navajo agricultural rights, prohibits the Navajo Nation from selling water out of state, and will create jobs building infrastructure.
The San Juan County Agricultural Water Users Association, however, is opposed to the settlement in its current form. The group’s attorney, Victor Marshall of Albuquerque, questioned whether the state engineer would be able to stop the Navajo Nation from selling water to other states and if the river could support water users off the reservation after diverting so much water to other communities.
Marshall said “New Mexico’s water is being sacrificed to the Navajo Nation to fulfill federal obligations and that makes no sense.”