In the Navajo towns of To’hajiilee and Crownpoint, NM, on the Friday of January 12, 2024, the Navajo Nation Water Rights Team gathered for pivotal Public Education Meetings.
1. Initiating the Dialogue: Each meeting kicked off with a warm welcome and prayer, setting the stage for a deep dive into the intricate web of Navajo water rights. Crystal Tulley Cordova, Principal Hydrologist in the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources – Water Management Branch, took the floor to address some pressing questions. The conversation began: Why aren’t homes without water simply being counted using satellite imagery? The audience was eager to understand the intricacies, and Crystal explained that while satellite imagery was utilized for estimates, achieving 100% accuracy remained a challenge.
2. Funding-Based Settlements: As the meetings ticked on, concerns surfaced regarding funding-based settlements versus project-based approaches. The settlement with the Navajo-Utah Commission was dissected, revealing that this funding-based strategy had been collectively agreed upon by the Navajo Nation Council. Although settlements may be funding-based, the Nation is still required to propose projects that the funding would go towards.
3. Allottees and the Uncertain Future: A notable shift in the discussion brought attention to the responsibilities surrounding allottees. Cyrstal explained that the Department of Interior’s wavering stance on the role of allottees in future settlements has caused some back-and-forth in settlement negotiations. The likelyhood of the federal government representing allottees, rather than Navajo Nation, added a layer of complexity and concern.
4. Proposing Projects for Progress: With settlements leaning towards a funding-based structure, the focus turned to the importance of proposing feasible projects for the effective utilization of funds. Navajo Nation’s obligation to identify projects that would benefit the community became a key point of discussion.
5. Water Import Strategy: As the day continued, the conversations shifted to a practical solution for water scarcity. Local New Mexico chapters had agreed to import water from the San Juan River due to localized groundwater contamination. Suggestions from the audience to utilize BIA well data were met with confirmation from Crystal that the data was readily available and being utilized by the team.
6. Balancing Act: San Juan Water and Local Rights: As each meeting began to wrap up, concerns were raised about the potential overreliance on imported San Juan water. The proposed solution aimed at a balanced approach, importing water from the San Juan while safeguarding rights to local groundwater for future uses.
7. Economic Implications and Legislative Hope: The meetings concluded with a poignant reminder of the link between reliable water access and economic development. Michelle Yazzie, Assistant Attorney General for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice Water Rights Unit, shared hopeful news, expressing plans to present legislation for Navajo water rights in Arizona to the Council in early February, signifying a proactive step towards addressing water rights issues.
As the NNWRC Public Education Meeting drew to a close, the journey towards securing a sustainable water future for the Navajo Nation continued.
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