Settlement will deliver running water to many Navajo homes for the first time

May 27, 2022, 4:57 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:30 pm

MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah — Even in the midst of this historic drought, most Utahns take running water for granted. Those who live in the Navajo Nation do not.

Federal, state and tribal leaders met Friday to finalize an agreement that will deliver running water to many Navajo families in Utah for the first time.

The Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Agreement is funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It makes a historic investment in fulfilling claims of Navajo water rights, and pumps money into running water for families.

More than 5,000 members of the Navajo Nation live in the Utah portion of the reservation. Only half of those homes have indoor plumbing. Those without it must haul water as far as 50 miles round-trip.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer welcomed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson to Monument Valley, Utah, on Friday for the historic signing.

In an interview after the event, Romney said this settles water disputes that go back several decades, and helps all parties avoid costly legal battles.

“The challenge was you had half of the Utah residents of the Navajo Nation without running water in their homes. So, we agreed, here’s what we’re going to do with the water rights, and here’s how we’re going to get water to the homes of the Navajo citizens,” he said.

To ensure the Navajo Nation has adequate drinking water infrastructure, the agreement affirms the Nation’s right to use 81,500 acre-feet of water each year from the San Juan River. That will protect existing water uses and support future water development.

The agreement also provides $220 million in federal funding and $8 million in state funding for water infrastructure.

(The Navajo Nation — Office of the President and Vice President)

“The key for the Navajo Nation was — OK, we will give up rights we believe we have to the Colorado, or a lot of them, but we really do want to have running water. And particularly with COVID having hit them so hard, please let us get running water to our homes,” Romney said.

In a statement, the president of the Navajo Nation said this settlement “is the product of decades of hard work and diligence of all parties, and will benefit over 40-percent of Navajo homes in San Juan County alone. This settles all current and future claims by the Navajo Nation for water rights within Utah.”

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Settlement will deliver running water to many Navajo homes for the first time