Tribe hires lobbyist to help sell Kyl bill

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 12, 2012

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T he Navajo Nation has hired a Denver-based company to help its water rights bill efforts in Congress.

Stanley Pollack, the Navajo Nation's water rights attorney, said the tribe has hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to work for passage of the increasingly controversial bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

The law firm was hired "specifically to assist our legislative efforts to secure Congressional approval of legislation to authorize a settlement of the Navajo Nation's water rights claims in the Little Colorado River adjudication in Arizona and to authorize the construction of various drinking water infrastructure projects benefiting the Navajo people," Pollack said.

He said the tribe chose to hire this law firm "because of the expertise and experience of several lawyers in their firm in the area of water settlement authorizations."

"In particular, Mr. Ryan Smith was one of several key Senate staff responsible for shepherding four Indian water rights settlements through the 111th Congress," he said.

According to its website, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has 250 attorneys and policy consultants across the U.S. and in Washington, D.C.

Kyl's bill, "The Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act" or SB 2109, would settle Navajo Nation water rights claims to the Little Colorado River, among other things.

Rights to the river have been under adjudication since 1979 and efforts to settle have been pursued, off and on, since 1991.

The settlement would recognize the rights of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe to use surface water that is not already allocated from the Little Colorado River and its tributaries, about 160,000 acre-feet per year, according to Pollack.

Their access to the groundwater beneath their lands would be unrestricted for municipal and domestic use, with some industrial use restrictions to prevent overuse.

The settlement legislation would authorize the construction of three drinking water infrastructure projects benefiting the members of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

The settlement would be contingent on tribal and federal approval of permits necessary to continue operating the Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine.

The Navajo Nation Council has not taken any official position with respect to the bill, nor has it approved the revised water claims settlement that it references.

In 2010, the Navajo Nation Council did approve a settlement agreement for the Navajo Nation's claims in the lower Colorado River Basin in Arizona but Kyl declined to sponsor legislation to ratify it, saying it was too costly.

In March 2011, Kyl urged tribal leaders to narrow the scope of the settlement, and leave out the $515 million Western Navajo Pipeline.

Kyl's bill references a 2012 settlement, but such a settlement has not been approved by either tribal council.

Besides extending approvals for the unrelated power plant and coal mine, SB 2109 contains other provisions unrelated to water claims that, in addition to the newly surfaced water settlement, are making it controversial within both tribes.

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