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Navajo Nation closes in on water settlement with Arizona, federal authorities

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

On Friday, the Navajo Nation hopes to reach a complex agreement with the U.S. government, Arizona, and several other tribes to water rights it has fought for decades to secure. 

The settlement is expected to mean access to piped water for tribal members living without it. 

The proposal would settle all of the Navajo Nation’s water rights claims as well as those for the Hopi and the San Juan Paiute tribes. 

President Buu Nygren is hopeful the stipulations will end so that the water rights agreement can go through a five-day comment period before heading to the Nation’s council.

"And then over to me and then get that over to our senators," he said.

From there, the agreement goes to Congress. The Navajo Nation is seeking nearly $2 billion in funding for a pipeline from Lake Powell to deliver water to tribal communities.

Despite some officials warning there's no guarantee Congress will fund infrastructure projects like these, Nygren is optimistic.

"I feel like we got the right Congress in place to really get this done. They know the situation on the Navajo Nation and they know that a stronger tribal community, a tribal nation, that we can get past some of those challenges," Nygren said.

And, he added, Navajo tribal members are also U.S. citizens and deserve access to water.

The agreement uses water from the Colorado River and the Little Colorado as well as groundwater and aquifers on tribal lands.

“This proposed comprehensive Arizona water settlement offers the Nation a clear path to a Navajo future marked by strong water security, healthy communities, and economic promise. There is no faster or more thorough way to transform the Nation’s vision for a global Navajo water supply system into reality. With intensifying climate conditions and biological risk like we saw in recent years, our people need piped water in their homes more urgently than ever," said Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch in a statement.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.