ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Navajo Nation has cleared a major hurdle in expanding its agricultural operations in northwestern New Mexico.
A state court Friday signed off on a settlement that gives the tribe enough water from the San Juan River to irrigate 40,000 acres of farmland. The 130,000 acre-feet is above the 195,000 acre-feet that the Navajo Nation now uses.
The settlement removes uncertainties over the availability of water for non-American Indians in the San Juan River basin. The Navajo Nation might have been able to secure more water through litigation, but it settled its water claims in exchange for federal support on a pipeline to send the water to Navajo communities.
Tribal water rights attorney Stanley Pollack called the agreement a “historic milestone in the Navajo Nation’s efforts to secure the water necessary to ensure a permanent homeland for the Navajo people,” the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1cU8BMD ) reported.
The chief counsel for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission praised the long-awaited decision as well.
Opponents still can appeal the ruling by Judge James Wechsler. The opposition, led by Albuquerque attorney Victor Marshall, has argued that the river does not have enough water to meet the terms of the deal. He declined comment to the Albuquerque Journal late Friday, saying he still was reviewing Wechsler’s 65-page decision.
Congress already approved the agreement, and a pipeline to deliver the water is being built.
The Navajo Nation has yet to settle its claims to water from the Little Colorado River and lower Colorado River basins in Arizona, and to upper basin of the Colorado River in Utah. Julie Nania, a researcher at the University of Colorado School of Law, said unsettled American Indian claims to water in the Colorado River basin alone could amount to more than 10 percent of the river’s annual flow.
“That’s a huge amount of water,” she said.