6/29/2011 Gallup Independent: Revised Arizona water rights proposal

6/29/2011 Gallup Independent: Revised Arizona water rights proposal By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and a host of state parties have submitted drafts of a settlement agreement and legislation to U.S. Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., to resolve the tribes’ claims to water rights in the Little Colorado River Basin. According to a status report filed with Apache County Superior Court, Kyl has advised the parties that further negotiations are required with the administration and the congressional delegation prior to introduction of the settlement legislation. In a June 9 letter on the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement agreement, Kyl stated that the parties submitted the proposed agreement to him on June 3 along with an agreement among the parties’ attorneys to recommend approval of the settlement to their respective clients.

He commended the parties for their tireless efforts to refocus negotiations and craft the settlement documents. “I know it was not an easy process,” he stated in the letter to Arizona Department of Water Resources. He also cautioned that transmitting the documents to him marks the next phase of their conversation, rather than the culmination of the parties’ efforts.

“As I have repeatedly counseled, the legislative component of this settlement must not only comport with the parties’ negotiated agreement, but must also be able to win sufficient support from Congress and the Administration as well as satisfy policy concerns. It will take time for me and my staff to conduct that analysis.” The Department of the Interior also will have to scrutinize the proposed agreement, he said.

The analysis will include detailed consideration of overall project costs relative to the benefits conferred, Kyl said. “It is quite possible that those costs will have to be further reduced. In addition, the parties have identified a select few issues that may require more attention.”

Parties to the settlement were informed March 24 by Kyl that the proposed settlement initially agreed to was too expensive and that he was unwilling to introduce legislation to authorize the settlement in its current form given the current political and fiscal climate in Washington. He encouraged the parties to reach new settlement language by June so that he might submit legislation to Congress prior to his retirement in 2012.

The negotiating parties have been meeting since then to revise the terms and make the settlement less costly. Last November, the Navajo Nation Council approved the $800 million settlement, which included three major water projects for Navajo. However, those terms are no longer in effect.

Kyl recommended in the June 9 letter that the parties refrain from seeking formal approval from their principals, boards and councils until both he and the Interior have concluded their reviews and responded to the parties. Attorneys for the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe requested that a stay in the litigation remain in effect until their next status conference in September.

The U.S. Department of the Interior held a tribal listening session June 7 in Phoenix on “Current and Future Indian Water Rights Settlements in Arizona,” with Interior representatives Larry EchoHawk, Del Laverdure and Letty Belin.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly presented comments regarding the importance of Navajo Generating Station and the Central Arizona Project to Indian water rights settlements in Arizona. NGS provides almost all of the power to move Colorado River water through the Central Arizona Project and will be needed to move water through the proposed $515 million Western Navajo Pipeline if it remains part of the Northeast Arizona settlement.

Shelly said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-proposed rules to require Selective Catalytic Reduction technology at NGS does not make sense. “The costs to implement would force the plant closure, have catastrophic economic impacts on the Navajo Nation and the states dependent on NGS energy, put nearly 1,000 people out of work and jeopardize our water settlement strategies.” Shelly said he has decided the Nation must work to secure the continued operation of NGS.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns a 21.2 share in NGS, has recommended divesting its ownership by 2014, four years ahead of the date mandated by Senate Bill 1368. The utility’s contract to receive coal-fired generation from NGS expires in 2019. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Performance Standard Act, or SB 1368, prohibits California electric utilities from importing power that exceeds the greenhouse gas emissions performance standard once existing contracts expire.

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