Tribe's water task force prepares for meeting with Sec. of Interior

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, November 8, 2012

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T he Navajo Nation Council's Water Rights Settlement Task Force is headed to Washington, D.C. on Nov. 12 to meet with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on their water settlement recommendations and concerns.

Water Rights Settlement Task Force member LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tse Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland), re-emphasized on Monday that the task force's proposed legislation regarding the Little Colorado River water rights, which Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Nazlini) is sponsoring, should not be viewed by Salazar as "we have a deal."

The task force's legislation is titled, "Accepting the invitation of the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior to discuss key issues impacting the Navajo Nation with respect to federal legislation S.2109 and H.R. 4067 regarding proposed water rights settlements of the Navajo Nation."

The Council rejected the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement in July and directed Naize to immediately appoint eight Council delegates to a Water Rights Settlement Task Force to begin working on a new settlement of the Little Colorado River and possibly other outstanding Navajo water rights.

According to the Council's legislative process, once the Council disapproves legislation, it no longer exists.

Naize, who sponsored the now defunct Little Colorado River settlement and voted for it in July, was designated as the task force chairperson.

The task force consists of a six-member advisory group that represented the grassroots water rights organizations, water rights professional and a Navajo medicine person.

On Oct. 12, Salazar sent a written invitation to the Council and President Ben Shelly to meet with him on reviving the settlement, Navajo Generating Station, housing for the Bennett Freeze, water projects and water for the western portion of the Navajo Reservation via the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline Project.

Bates noted that the task force members who meet with Salazar and the Hopi Tribe must make it very clear that Naize's legislation is not the Navajo Nation's settlement of the Little Colorado River.

The sole purpose of Naize's legislation is to identify some, not all, of the problems and concerns that the Council had with Senate Bill 2109, he explained.

U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain sponsored SB 2109, which contained the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement, and introduced into Congress on Valentine's Day last year, which surprised the Council and Navajo people on and off the reservation.

"We only have two advisors representing the grassroots people," Bates said. "They have to take the speaker's legislation back to the people and inform the people about what the task force is considering. That hasn't happened and that's why they were brought on to the task force."

There is a process for an official Navajo Nation water rights settlement position and it cannot come from a subcommittee of the Council or task force, Bates said.

"That's what got us into trouble in the first place; there was no involvement of the people and the legislative branch was not totally involved," he said.

Another main player in the reviving of the Little Colorado River settlement is the Hopi Tribe, Bates said

"The Hopis may not have as many concerns or they may have more," Bates said. "But, as I've said before and will say again, if both tribes could come together, sit around the same camp fire and discuss our concerns, we could begin working together on solutions that would result in a water rights settlement that involves the people and is for their benefit."

But he said both tribes must remember that the Little Colorado River settlement involves other parties, such as the Arizona folks and downstream users, who must also agree to a settlement.

Bates explained that Naize's legislation is an outline of the terms of the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement that the Council opposed.

The task force agreed to incorporate legislation approved by the Council's Naa'bik'iyati' Committee in July that identified 14 provisions in SB 2109 and its companion Congressional legislation, House Bill 4067, that should be removed, he added.

Among the 14 provisions that the Naa'bik'iyati' Committee disapproved was the extension of leases for Navajo Generating Station and the prohibition of transferring land purchased by the Navajo Nation into trust status.

"Let me also say this, we need a settlement and I put my faith in the task force's advisory group and colleagues on the task force that they will make a decision one way or another," Bates said.

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