SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utah Navajos would no longer have to haul water to their homes if Congress passes bipartisan legislation introduced this week that has the backing of lawmakers in Utah and Arizona.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, joined with two Arizona senators on a bill that would end decades of conflict among the Navajo Nation, the federal government and Utah over water rights.
The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act would settle all current and future tribal claims for water rights in the state and preclude future court litigation. It would provide the Navajo Nation with the rights to 81,500 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River Basin.
The bill, co-sponsored by Romney, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., would allocate $210 million for water projects to help provide clean drinking water to tribal members. It also calls for Utah to contribute $8 million toward the settlement, which has already been approved.
"Along the San Juan River, from New Mexico to Aneth community and all the way to Navajo Mountain, there’s 2,400 families who will be connected to running water," said Speaker of the Navajo Nation Seth Damon, adding that up to 11,000 people would be impacted on a daily basis.
Romney said the issue could have been resolved through a lengthy court process that would have cost millions of dollars and accomplished little.
"Instead, we have come together to introduce legislation that will resolve this conflict by providing additional water for the Navajo Nation and for the people of Utah in a way that is good for everybody," he said. "At the same time it will provide needed infrastructure to the Navajo Nation for nearly half of the 5,000 citizens there that don’t have running water."
The Navajo Nation Council approved legislation supporting the proposed settlement in January 2015.
Some Utah Navajos would get running water for the first time if the bill passes.19 comments on this story
“We have a lot of our citizens in southeastern Utah on the Navajo Reservation that are without water, and they are so close to the San Juan River, they’re so close to all the water in the Colorado Lower Basin, and yet we are without running water and the infrastructure, said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.
"It’s a great thing when you put the needs of others first and everybody comes together, and many lives are going to be blessed because of it."
Sinema said she would continue to reach across the aisle to ensure the federal government makes good on its promises to tribal nations.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced a House version of the bill in January. GOP Reps. John Curtis and Chris Stewart and Democrat Ben McAdams signed on as co-sponsors.