Office of the President and Vice President
Mihio Manus, Communications Director
Antonio Ramirez, Sr. Public Information Officer
Alysa Landry, Sr. Public Information Officer
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December 18, 2018


President Begaye outlines the Navajo Nation's challenges and priorities regarding the Colorado River during a panel discussion about tribal water.
LAS VEGAS—President Russell Begaye pressed for increased access to water and greater funding for water infrastructure development Thursday during a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA).
President Begaye was one of four tribal leaders to participate in a panel discussion titled “Tribal Water: Opportunities and Challenges,” which was held on the second day of the conference. CRWUA, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that draws membership from the seven states, 10 tribes, parts of Mexico, and hundreds of other stakeholders who benefit from the Colorado River, meets annually to develop procedures and initiatives that guide the responsible stewardship of the river.
“On the Navajo Nation, water is life,” President Begaye said during his remarks. “That’s something that’s repeated over and over across Navajo land because of our lack of access to quality water.”
Nearly one-third of Navajo citizens still haul water on a daily basis for drinking, bathing, farming and livestock, President Begaye said. Yet the Navajo Nation existed as a sovereign government, recognized by the United States through the Treaty of 1868, before many of the surrounding states.
“We have one of the highest rates in the country of homes without access to running water,” President Begaye said. “Many of these rivers and tributaries flow across the Navajo Nation, but we don’t have equal access to the water. We have a treaty that’s much older than the states, yet the states have greater access to the water than we do.”
The conference came as the entire Southwest is clamping down on water usage in anticipation of severe drought conditions that are expected to hit in 2019. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest reservoirs on the 1,450-mile river, are expected to reach record low levels.
In his remarks, President Begaye addressed challenges the Navajo Nation faces both in accessing the water supply and providing the needed infrastructure to deliver it to the people. Access to surface water often is hindered by practical and legal constraints, including the Navajo Nation’s geographical location in three states and its position as a stakeholder in both the upper and lower basins. This alone has led to a complex series of water rights negotiations and ongoing litigation.
The Navajo Nation also faces legal obstacles in obtaining water from the Colorado River below Lake Powell for the western portion of the reservation, and in providing water to Navajo communities in Arizona from the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project (NGWSP). The State of Arizona has prohibited NGWSP water to go to Navajo citizens in Arizona until the Nation has settled its water rights claims to the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in Arizona. The state has also insisted that no settlement can be achieved that doesn’t also settle the claims of the Hopi Tribe.
Without that settlement, 6,411 acre-feet of Lower Basin water already reserved for the Navajo Nation cannot be accessed, President Begaye said. He called for better collaboration from stakeholders so Navajo citizens can access water that is already rightfully theirs.
“We have no control over the Hopi Tribe,” President Begaye said. “True collaboration between the tribes and the water users cannot be achieved so long as water is used as a political pawn.” 
Additional challenges include current drought conditions, which impact farming and livestock operations across the Navajo Nation, and historical contamination from uranium mines and the 2015 spill at Colorado’s Gold King Mine. President Begaye estimated that the Navajo Nation needs $2 billion in funding to upgrade aging water infrastructure and construct new water and wastewater systems.
President Begaye also called on Congress to approve the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement, which will provide more than $200 million in infrastructure and related projects. He also called on federal lawmakers match the Navajo Nation’s 2016 allocation of $245 million over a six-year period to develop water infrastructure across the reservation.
Finally, President Begaye urged Congress to allocate funding for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project near Farmington, N.M. The project was approved in 1962 but never fully funded or completed.
“The Navajo Nation will aggressively fight for water for all our people,” President Begaye said. “We are adamant about being involved in programs and decisions that affect the availability of Colorado River water and the rights of our people to access it.”



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