Romney introduces legislation to settle water rights for Navajo Nation in Utah

ST. GEORGE — Federal legislation has been introduced to settle one of the largest outstanding water rights claims in Utah.

The settlement would give the Navajo Nation 81,500 acre-feet annually of Utah’s unused share of water from the upper Colorado River basin. Utah and the Navajo Nation reached the agreement in 2016, but it needs congressional approval.

Sen. Mitt Romney introduced the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act of 2019 along with cosponsors Sens. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

In a video sent out from his press office, Romney said that “about half of the 5,000 Utah Navajo Nation residents don’t have running water in their home.” (See video in media player above.)

Romney went on to say that these residents have to travel long distances to get water and bring it back to their home.

The senator also said in a media statement that there has been a great deal of conflict for many years over who has the right to water that flows through Utah and the Navajo Nation as part of Utah, adding that the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act of 2019 was the best route to address this issue.

“This conflict could have been resolved through a lengthy court process that would have cost millions of dollars and accomplished very little,” he said. “Instead, we have come together to introduce legislation that will resolve this conflict by providing additional water for the Navajo Nation and for the people of Utah in a way that is good for everybody. … I hope the Senate will take this up and pass it without delay so that we can keep the longstanding promise by the federal government to the Navajo Nation in Utah.”

The bill would provide the Navajo Nation with $210 million for water infrastructure projects, including wells, pipelines and water treatment plants. Utah agreed to chip in $8 million.

According to The Associated Press, the Navajo Nation originally claimed twice as much water as the settlement includes. Tribes often settle claims in exchange for funding to put the water to use.

In the media statement from Romney’s office, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer thanked the senator for “championing this for us.”

“We have a lot of our citizens in Southeastern Utah on the Navajo Reservation that are without water, and they are so close to the San Juan River, they’re so close to all the water in the Colorado Lower Basin, and yet we are without running water and the infrastructure,” Lizer said. “Water is very important, it’s one of society’s basic needs, and now in 2019 some of our people are getting water for the first time. It’s a great thing when you put the needs of others first and everybody comes together, and many lives are going to be blessed because of it.”

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