Interior Secretary invites tribal officials D.C. to renegotiate water rights settlement

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, October 18, 2012

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T op officials are mum on a written invitation from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to meet with Navajo Nation representatives to settle the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement on Nov. 14.

The Council rejected the Little Colorado River settlement in July and directed Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini/Many Farms), to immediately appoint eight members from the Council to a Water Rights Settlement Task Force to work on a new settlement of the Little Colorado River and possibly other outstanding Navajo water rights.

Naize was designated as the task force chairperson. The task force also included a six-member Advisory Group that represented the grassroots water rights organization, a water rights professional and a Navajo medicine person.

The Navajo Times learned about the Nov. 14 meeting through two memos that were provided by an anonymous source on Tuesday.

At print time on Wednesday, none of the task force members had responded to email questions and a cell phone call to Legislative Branch Communications Director Jerome Clark from the Navajo Times.

Clark said on Wednesday that he was providing copies of the Navajo Times emailed questions to Legislative Advisor Leonard Chee, who was assigned to the task force.

According to the memos, which are both dated Oct. 12, the Nov. 14 meeting in Washington, D.C., was discussed when Salazar met with President Ben Shelly and the Council at the Navajo Division of Transportation in Tse Bonito, N.M., on Sept. 28.

After the meeting the Salazar, the Water Rights Settlement Task Force held its first meeting at the Division of Economic Development conference room, where there was no announcement of the Nov. 14 meeting to settle the Little Colorado River water rights.

The Navajo Times asked task force members why the meeting was announced.

Both memos, which are from Salazar and Navajo Nation Washington, D.C., Office Director Clara Pratt to the Shelly, Naize and the Council, explain that the focus of the Nov. 14 meeting would be on the Little Colorado River settlement but would include discussions about the Navajo Generating Station, housing for the Bennett Freeze, and water projects and water for the western portion of the Navajo Reservation via the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline Project.

During public meetings and hearings on the settlement, which were held across the Navajo Reservation before the Council's vote on July 5, a majority of the people strongly opposed the settlement for several reasons but chief among them was the inclusion of lease extensions for Navajo Generating Station.


Several delegates, especially Delegate Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennhotso/Kayenta), who sponsored legislation opposing the settlement, criticized the settlement for having a provision that authorized 6,411 acre-feet of water from the Central Arizona Project to be withdrawn from the San Juan River and used for the Navajo-Gallup water pipeline in exchange for Council approval of lease extensions for Navajo Generating Station.

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, who drafted and sponsored the Little Colorado River water rights settlement, stated in a press release announcing his introduction of the settlement to Congress, "The reauthorization will occur if and when the tribes agree to extend the leases and other agreements associated with the Navajo Generating Station."

Benally is among the nine delegates serving on the water rights settlement task force.

According to the Oct. 12 memo from Navajo Nation Washington, D.C., Pratt to Shelly, Naize and the Council, Salazar's plan is for the Navajo and Hopi governments to agree "on the portions of the settlement that have raised the most objections", "convince Senator Kyl to make changes to the settlement", and have "the Lame Duck" Congress pass the water settlement after the November election

Salazar in his Oct. 12 memo to Naize stated that the meeting would include the US.. Environmental Protection Agency's Best Available Retrofit Technology rulemaking for Navajo Generating Station, housing for the Bennett Freeze Area, and wet water for the western portion of the Navajo Reservation, which would be accomplished by "building upon our success with the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline Project."

The Navajo Times asked task force members if Salazar was offering to have the EPA ease up on NGS, to provide housing for the Freeze Area, and to approve water and water projects for western Navajo if the Navajo and Hopi government agreed to settle the Little Colorado River water rights.

Specific questions to Naize, since he is the task force chairperson concerned whether he knew about Salazar's plans to bring Navajo and Hopi officials together to support the settlement and to have Kyl continue to sponsor it before Congress, which is why he dragged out the opportunity for the task force to work on a counter offer so that Salazar could make his offer.

The question is based on the Council's instruction to Naize to immediately appoint Council delegates to the settlement Task Force to develop a new settlement and begin negotiations. The council's directive to Naize was made immediately after the Council rejected the Little Colorado River settlement.

But Naize did not get the task force approved for a couple of months, which resulted in the first task force meeting occurring about three months after the Council's directive to Naize.

And according to an Aug. 31 letter from Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Hayes shared Salazar's plan regarding the LCR settlement with Shingoitewa on Aug. 28.

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