Navajo Nation, state and federal leaders sign historic water rights agreement

May 27, 2022, 2:30 PM
Navajo Nation officials along with Utah and federal officials attended the signing....
The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act was signed Friday by state, federal and Navajo Nation leaders. Photo credit: The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President

MOUNTAIN VALLEY, Utah — A multi-million dollar water rights agreement was signed Friday by state, federal and Navajo Nation leaders.

The goal of the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act is to ensure that the Navajo Nation maintains access to clean drinking water. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, said the agreement is an effort to strengthen Indigenous communities and support Tribal self-governance.

The federal government will pay more than $210 million, with Utah contributing $8 million to develop drinking water infrastructure for the nation.

Leaders from the Navajo Nation met with the Secretary of The Interior and Gov. Spencer Cox to sign the agreement, protecting water rights for the community. The settlement is sectioning off more than 81 thousand acre-feet of water for the nation.

The Department of The Interior said it will help provide a solid foundation for future economic development for the community.

Lack of drinking water for the people of the Navajo Nation

According to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, more than 40% of Navajo households do not have access to running water or adequate sanitation. In some cases, a single water spigot can serve as many as 900 people. 

“Water is life. Those are the words that we hear from our elders and youth so often,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer in the press release. “Today’s signing is the culmination of many years of work and commitment of past and present leaders. This is not about what we did as leaders, but what is to come for our people by way of this agreement between the United States, the state of Utah and the Navajo Nation. This agreement represents life for our Navajo people- for the generations who are yet to be born and those who continue to aspire for a greater quality of life.”

The lack of usable water for Navajo families led Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to testify before the U.S. House subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife to pass the settlement legislation.

“We are located on the ancestral lands of our Diné people. Since time immemorial, Diné people have resided here and have continued to create their permanent homeland and livelihood within this region,” President Nez said. “Present-day, this area is home to the community of Oljato, which is one of the eight Navajo Utah Communities who will directly benefit from the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Agreement. This historic occasion is the product of decades of hard work and diligence of all parties and will benefit over 40% of Navajo homes in San Juan County Alone.”

Along with members of the 24 Navajo Nation Council, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Sen. Mitt Romney, Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson were all in attendance at the signing ceremony.

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Navajo Nation, state and federal leaders sign historic water rights agreement