7/15/2011 Gallup Independent: Western Navajo Pipeline dropped from water rights talks By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – If the Navajo Nation wants the Western Navajo Pipeline it’s going to have to build it, at least as the situation now stands. The project is no longer part of the proposed Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement. Stanley Pollack, Navajo water rights attorney, and the Navajo Water Rights Commission gave the Nabiki’yati’ Committee an update Tuesday evening on water rights settlements in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, as well as near-miss litigation with the city of Flagstaff over water drilling on the city’s Red Gap Ranch. Pollack said he informed the Navajo Nation Council in May that the proposed Northeastern Arizona settlement approved last November by the 21st Council was no longer under consideration because Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who heads the Arizona congressional delegation, didn’t think the settlement could get through the current Congress.
On March 23, Kyl advised the settlement parties to come up with a proposal that did not include the costly Western Navajo Pipeline, which would bring “liquid gold” to water-starved portions of the Nation in Western Navajo Agency.
“I immediately told the senator that without the Western Navajo Pipeline that the Navajo Nation was not willing to engage in any discussions concerning settlement of its Colorado River water rights. So we basically took the Colorado River issues off the table once Congress took the Western Navajo Pipeline off the table,” Pollack said.
Lack of support for the Western Navajo project was not unanticipated, however, and as a result, “we have been involved in trying to wrap up a settlement of just the Little Colorado River and not the Colorado River,” he said. Hopi stood to gain nothing out of the Little Colorado River settlement because there were no projects for the Hopis involved, so they were not part of the deal, he added.
Kyl set a June 3 deadline for the parties to put together a settlement he could introduce this month in Congress. On June 3, attorneys for parties to the settlement discussions entered into an agreement “basically agreeing to what we would call a Little Colorado River settlement,” Pollack said. That settlement was forwarded to Kyl’s office and the Department of the Interior, where it is now under review.
“If we get to the point that there is a settlement that the administration and Congress believe has legs, can move forward, has some chance of being approved by the next Congress, at that point in time we will come back and give you more details on the settlement and ask for your approval,” he said.
“But we don’t think there’s any point of going through another process of approving a settlement that we just simply don’t have the go-ahead from either the congressional delegation or the administration to move forward in Congress.”
Delegate Leonard Tsosie said what bothers him is that Kyl is calling the shots. “I don’t think that the agreement that the Council approved should be characterized as a non-valid consideration.” He asked the Water Rights Commission to convene at least one meeting to explain to the Navajo people the status of the Western pipeline. “I think if this is no longer a valid consideration, then we need to be honest with the people and tell them that – in Navajo language.”
He also suggested the Commission begin talking with the Obama administration to try to promote the pipeline.
“Sen. Kyl is going to be gone in less than a year. So be it. Let him go to whatever burned-out place near Walla where I suppose he has a cabin. But for the Navajo people, life goes on. We still need water, with or without Sen. Kyl. … Not showing sympathy for basic human need, to just kind of turn a blind eye to that really bothers me to. I would like to think that he has a heart.”
Tsosie said Hopi also got off without approving the lease. “Many of the Navajo persons were praising them for doing that while the rest of us were getting close to having our effigies burned. Hopi has made off clean here. … I think in the future this Council ought to consider whether we truly need Hopi approval or not. I’ve always said to put the spigot at the borderline and let them develop their own water line if they so care to do so.”
Lorenzo Curley took issue with the “sacred cow” portion of the negotiations – the Colorado River and Navajo Generating Station.
“As we all know, Navajo Generating Station supplies 90 percent of the water to Phoenix and Tucson area, and they need this. That’s why they’re ensuring that the generating station is considered part of this agreement. We’re allowing that sacred cow to be part of this agreement. Why don’t we just take it off the table? They’ve done that with the Colorado River and the Western pipeline. They’ve taken our sacred cow off; let’s take theirs off,” he said.
Alton Shepherd said Curley brought forth a good analysis of the process. “I did have my reservations on what was being agreed,” he said.
Katherine Benally told the committee that as much as they don’t like what has transpired, they can’t blame Pollack and the Water Rights Commission. “It’s a decision Sen. Kyl made. … That was his position and it’s sort of the position in Washington, D.C., right now due to the deficit or the money crunch everybody is in. So, what’s the solution?
“Every time we negotiate something, we sacrifice. Maybe land, maybe water, maybe a little bit of our sovereignty, maybe our water rights. But if we put our money where our mouth is, we don’t sacrifice anything.”
Benally said the main cost is to bring the water up from the canyon at Lees Ferry. She referred to some Oriental investors who recently visited Navajo. “’Let us build it for you,’ they said. I would ask the Water Rights Commission to take a look at that. At least sit down with them and have a dialog and report back. See what transpires.”
Pollack said there appeared to be a couple common themes of frustration and perhaps even anger over what has happened with the Western pipeline. “There is no question that the Navajo people in the Western Agency need water. Once you are west of the Echo Cliffs, there is no groundwater, there is no surface water. That is why the Western Navajo Pipeline has always been the backbone of any Colorado River discussions that we have had.”
But there is really no point in pushing the pipeline in its current form, he said. “There’s no place to go with it. The Obama administration does not support it. Congress doesn’t support it. Look, these people are talking about cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, health benefits for the American people. They’re trying to cut back. They’re trying not to spend more money.”
Meanwhile, the Nation’s Water Management Branch is building the Western Navajo Pipeline “one piece at a time,” Pollack said. Navajo technical staff is working with Indian Health Service and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to get drinking water to the people in Western Navajo.
“There is a small pipeline in the ground that goes almost all the way to Cameron. There is about a six mile gap that we have not been able to get funding for,” he said, because it doesn’t meet the criteria. Approximately $986,000 is needed.
“One of the things that we would like the Council to consider is pitching in and helping to finish that pipeline.” Once it is completed, he said, “you will actually have a small version of the Western Navajo Pipeline.”