Agreement Reached on Navajo Nation's Water Rights

Agreement Reached on Navajo Nation's Water Rights

Following years of negotiations, the Navajo Nation signed an agreement with the federal government and Utah state government last Friday. The Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement will give the Nation access to 81,500 acre-feet of water per year from the San Juan River and "recognizes the water rights of the Nation through the Navajo Treaty of 1868 and provides money to get utilities to the tribe,” the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Additionally, the Nation will receive $210 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and $8 million from the state of Utah for new water projects.

Why This Matters

The Western US, home to the Navajo Nation reservation, is facing the worst drought in 1,200 years. As a result, the San Juan and Colorado Rivers have fallen to dangerously low levels, threatening water access for millions of residents in the region. Those living on tribal reservations -- which are often in desperate need of reliable water infrastructure -- are especially vulnerable to the drought's devastating impacts, a problem this latest water agreement aims to address.

At the signing, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, recalled having to carry buckets of water home as a child and emphasized the importance of expanding water access on the reservation. "For too long,” Haaland said, "these poor water infrastructure conditions have burdened this community. But today, we hopefully begin to turn those challenges around.”

A Sacred Right

The Navajo Nation is not alone in its receipt of funds through the latest infrastructure package passed by Congress. Across the country, the legislation has provided Indigenous tribes with $13 billion for infrastructure projects, of which $2.5 billion will go towards protecting water rights.

In a statement by Haaland, she thanked the Biden Administration, and stated she was "grateful that Tribes, some of whom have been waiting for this funding for decades, are finally getting the resources they are owed.”