SALT LAKE CITY — The state is moving closer to settling water rights negotiations for the Navajo Nation in Utah, with a committee of lawmakers agreeing Tuesday to fund an initial payment of $2 million.
That chunk of money would be part of the $8 million price tag Utah would be obligated to pay under a complex federal-state arrangement that would allocate to the tribe 81,500 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system.
The allocation is far less than the 166,000 acre-feet of water the tribe could have claimed, state engineer Kent Jones explained to the Senate Natural Resources committee.
Under the arrangement, the money would support improvement in water infrastructure on Navajo lands in Utah — such as installation of pipelines to convey water for culinary use.
HB127 — which appropriates the $2 million but would still need to be signed off in the overall state budget plan — is sponsored by Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price.
Watkins said the water delivery system in the Navajo Nation is wholly inadequate for the needs of the tribe.
"Sadly it is like having a Third World country in our state because of the lack of infrastructure they have," she said.
The settlement with the tribe over rights to water along the Colorado River is part of a federal directive that states recognize the water rights of sovereign entities like Native American Indian tribes.