U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE, N.M. -- The Navajo Nation would have the rights
to more than half the available water in New Mexico's San Juan Basin
if Congress agrees to pay for an $800 million settlement reached by
tribal and state leaders.
Gov. Bill Richardson, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley and
other officials signed the settlement, the product of several years
of negotiations over water rights in northwestern New Mexico.
"This agreement settles the Navajo Nation's water rights claims
while at the same time benefiting non-Navajo water right owners,''
said State Engineer John D'Antonio, the state's top water official.
The proposed agreement must be approved by Congress and the
secretary of the interior. But Republican Sen. Pete Domenici said it
may need revision because of the high costs assumed by the federal
government under the plan.
"The harsh truth is that legislation authorizing the Navajo
settlement will be very difficult to fund given the huge budget
deficit confronting the nation,'' he said in a statement.
Under the pact, the Navajo Nation will have rights to about 56
percent of the projected water in the basin that is available for use
in New Mexico.
The settlement is expected to cost about $800 million over 10 to
15 years, with the federal government required to pay most of that,
D'Antonio said. Much of the cost -- almost $590 million -- is to pay
for construction of a water pipeline.
The negotiated settlement was preferable to costly litigation of
water claims, Shirley said, but officials must now focus on
persuading Congress to go along with terms of the settlement.
"Our work is not yet completed,'' he said.
The settlement outlines deadlines for congressional approval and
execution of the agreement by the interior secretary by the end of
Domenici described the settlement as a step forward but said a
final agreement may require further compromise by both sides.
Richardson did not like the sound of that: "We just signed an
agreement,'' he said. "We don't want to talk compromise.''
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