San Juan River New Mexico

1. Basin Overview

The Navajo Nation has settled its claims within the San Juan River Basin of New Mexico. The San Juan River (River) is a major tributary of Colorado River, draining an area of approximately 24,900 square miles in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.[1]

The River flows a total of 355 miles through the deserts of Northern New Mexico and Southeast Utah to join Lake Powell.[2] Within Navajo Nation, the San Juan River flows through or next to Huerfano, San Juan, Nenanizad, Upper Fruitland, Hogback, Shiprock, Beclabito, and Cuduii Navajo Chapters before entering the State of Utah.[1] 

2. Hydrology

The San Juan River originates in Southern Colorado and enters Navajo Lake Reservoir just north of the New Mexico border. Below the Navajo Dam, the River flows west through a narrow farming valley. At Farmington, New Mexico, it is joined from the north by its main tributary, the Animas River. The elevation of the San Juan River Basin ranges from about 14,000 feet near the headwaters of the Animas River to about 3,700 feet at Lake Powell. The elevation of Lake Powell fluctuates dozens of feet per year due to the seasonal nature of runoff. Over the past 5 years, the average discharge rate near Fruitland, New Mexico (USGS Stream Gauge #09367540) was 1,260 cubic feet per second.[2]

The San Juan River provides habitat for at least eight native fish species, including the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, and bonytail chub, which are only found within the Colorado River Basin. Protecting and restoring the critical habitat of the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker is a primary focus of the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program, which Navajo Nation is a part of.[3]

3. History Regarding Water Rights

Navajo Indian Irrigation Project (NIIP): In 1962, Congress approved NIIP, a network of irrigation facilities that take water from the Navajo Dam and Reservoir to improve the economic conditions and encourage agricultural settlements for Navajo Nation.[4] The settlement provided authority and funding for the 110,630-acre Navajo farm, anticipating the diversion of 508,000 afy. In practice, the farm’s average annual diversion amount is 353,000 afy. The priority date of the water is October 16, 1957, based on the establishment of the irrigation project rather than the date that the reservation was established. In exchange for developing the NIIP, the Nation agreed to allow water from the Navajo Reservoir to be transferred through the San Juan Chama project to the Rio Grande River Basin.

San Juan River Basin In New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement: This general stream adjudication commenced in 1975 and includes most of the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and lands of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. On April 19, 2005, the Navajo Nation and the State of New Mexico executed a settlement agreement to resolve the Nation’s claims. The San Juan Navajo Water Rights Settlement allocated roughly 600,000 afy for agriculture, industrial, municipal, domestic, and stock watering purposes. In 2009, President Obama signed Pub. L. 111-11, which approved the settlement and authorized funding for the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project. The settlement will only become effective after settlement mandated actions are completed, such as the construction of the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project. 

CLAIMS OF THE NAVAJO NATION (SUBFILE AB-07-1): On August 28, 2013, after extensive discovery, numerous pre-trial motions and a hearing, the Adjudication Court granted the joint motion of the Nation, United States and State of New Mexico to enter the decrees without a trial. The decrees setting forth the water rights of the Navajo Nation were entered on November 1, 2013. This completed a major milestone necessary to reach a final settlement.


4. Current Status: Settlement Implementation

Construction of the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project (NGSWP), the major water infrastructure development project included in the Nation’s San Juan River New Mexico Settlement, is well underway. The NGWSP is designed to provide a long-term sustainable water supply to meet the current and future demands of more than 43 Navajo chapters, the city of Gallup, and the Teepee Junction area of the Jicarilla Apache Nation through the annual delivery of 37,764 acre-feet of water from the San Juan Basin. Completion of the NGWSP is a milestone required for the final settlement. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Navajo Nation President Shirley, and other distinguished dignitaries broke ground for Reach 12A construction at a ceremony on June 2, 2012. As of summer 2022, 267 miles of the 300-mile pipeline are either installed or under contract.
[1] USGS. (2023). Watershed Boundary Dataset. Watershed Boundary Dataset
[2] USGS. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map.
[3] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2006). San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program Service. 
[4] Glaser, L. (1998). Navajo Indian Irrigation Project. United States Bureau of Reclamation.
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