Five public meetings will be held in the next seven days for county residents to get educated on the Navajo Water Rights Settlement, beginning with a 6 p.m. meeting tonight at the Shiprock Chapter House.
Signed in April 2005, the proposed Navajo Water Rights Settlement would provide many northwest New Mexico American Indian communities with access to new pipelines carrying more than 600,000 acre-feet of San Juan River water each year. Those communities rely on depleting ground water sources, State Engineer John D'Antonio said.
The project is estimated to cost $1.3 billion, most of which would be funded by the federal government. Two major pipelines — one that starts south of Shiprock and flows south near U.S. 491 to Gallup and another that starts at the Cutter Reservoir, near Bloomfield, and runs south near U.S. 550 would transport water throughout northwest New Mexico.
In exchange for the pipeline, D'Antonio said the Nation and other tribes agreed to relinquish some of their water rights that protect water users who live off the reservations.
The state engineer stressed four benefits of the project in his guest editorials published in several New Mexico newspapers and during an interview with The Daily Times.
He said the project avoids expensive litigation, protects non-Navajo agricultural rights, prohibits the Nation from selling water out of state and will create jobs while the water system is being built.
Yet another group, the San Juan County Agricultural Water Users Association, is opposing the settlement.
"Our association is opposed to the settlement in its current form. We believe it will do irreparable harm to the basin," association president Mike Sullivan said.
The group hired an Albuquerque-based lawyer, Victor Marshall, and plans to fight the settlement.
Marshall questioned whether the state engineer will be able to stop the Nation from selling water to other states and if the river could support water users off the reservation after diverting so much water to other communities.
"There simply isn't enough water," Marshall said. "New Mexico's water is being sacrificed to the Navajo Nation to fulfill federal obligations and that makes no sense."
Lawyers from the state, the Nation and representatives from the state engineer's office and the Bureau of Reclamation are expected to be at the meetings. The water users association is expecting to have more than 1,000 members attend some of the meetings.
The meeting dates and times are as follows:
Ryan Boetel: email@example.com