Tag Archives: Senator Jon Kyl

8/28/2011 Washington Examiner: Navajos focus on Little Colorado River settlement

8/28/2011 Washington Examiner: Navajos focus on Little Colorado River settlement By: FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press: The Navajo Nation, unwilling to settle its claims to the Colorado River without a pipeline to deliver much-needed water to its residents, now is focusing on rights to water from one of the river’s tributaries. Negotiators on a northern Arizona water rights settlement have removed from the deal a $515 million pipeline that would have delivered water to the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Even with the lower cost, however, it remains uncertain when the revised settlement might be introduced in Congress. Navajo lawmakers approved a version of the settlement last year. That version included the pipeline to send 11,000 acre-feet of Colorado River from Lake Powell to a handful of Navajo communities and about 4,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Hopi reservation.

But Republican Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who has shepherded key American Indian water rights deals through Congress, later said it was too costly and asked the negotiators to revise it.

Kyl’s office declined to comment on the revised settlement that negotiators sent him in June because it’s not final. But in a letter to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Kyl said the revised document marks only the next phase of conversation and that “it is possible that those costs will have to be further reduced.”

“Because of the estimated cost associated with a main-stem settlement, the parties pulled back and focused simply on a Little Colorado River settlement,” said Tom Whitmer, a water resource manager and tribal liaison for the state water department. “The federal government’s budget is not in the most healthy state. Whenever you start talking about settlements, it’s also about the cost of the infrastructure to get the water to the area it’s needed.”

Under the revised settlement, the Navajo Nation still would get any unclaimed flows from the Little Colorado River and nearly unlimited access to two aquifers beneath the reservation. It also would settle claims from the Hopi Tribe, which did not follow the Navajos’ footsteps in approving the settlement last year.

“I think we’ve gotten some things in there we feel good about,” said Hopi Chairman Le Roy Shingoitewa. “Whether or not they remain is really something the parties all have to agree to.”

Both the Navajo and Hopi are party to a case to adjudicate rights to the Little Colorado River, which has been on hold to allow for settlement discussions. Aside from Zuni Pueblo, no other Arizona tribe has acquired rights to the river, Whitmer said.

The revised settlement was revealed in a separate federal court case earlier this month in which the Navajo Nation sued to assert its rights to the Colorado River. The negotiators said in a status report that they did not expect any settlement to be approved by Congress until late next year.

They also outlined further concerns by Kyl, including the future of the Navajo Generating Station that provides power to deliver water through a series of canals to 80 percent of the state’s population and ensures that American Indian water rights settlements are met.

Kyl had asked negotiators for the tribes and 30 other entities to try to lower the $800 million cost of the settlement so that he could introduce legislation well ahead of his planned retirement.

Navajo water rights attorney Stanley Pollack said the settlement was structured so that the pipeline could be removed if necessary and that he would not bring it before tribal lawmakers without Kyl’s blessing.

Although the pipeline has been dropped from the settlement, neither the Navajo Nation nor the Hopi Tribe has waived rights to water from the Colorado River.

The revised settlement would provide the delivery of some 6,400 acre-feet of Colorado River water to Navajo communities in Arizona, along the New Mexico border. The water was reserved for a possible Navajo water rights settlement with the state of Arizona as part of a historic deal with Arizona tribes in 2004. The water would be delivered through the Navajo-Gallup pipeline authorized by the Navajo Nation’s water agreement with New Mexico in 2009.

The Arizona settlement for the lower Colorado River basin had been in negotiation for more than a decade. Tribal officials say they’ll now have to come up with other ways to provide water in areas where Navajos commonly drive long distances to haul water for themselves and their livestock. Some smaller projects are in the works.

Ray Yazzie Begay, 45, had high hopes for a pipeline that would deliver water to his community in Cameron. Much of the water there has a bitter taste, he said, and is good only for showering and livestock feeding. He recently was filling up a 210-gallon water tank outside the Cameron Trading Post that was destined for his sheep, cattle and horses a few miles away.

A pipeline “would bring a lot of good things to the community,” he said. “A lot of us live out there in the back areas.”

Navajo lawmaker Duane Tsinigine said the need for water is especially prevalent on the western side of the reservation, where Navajos were prevented from making any improvements to their home or land for decades because of a land dispute with the Hopi Tribe. The construction ban has been lifted but many in the community are still awaiting basic needs, he said.

“Maybe we can file for a separate settlement, which if we filed we might not see in this lifetime,” he said.

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5/2/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement 'too expensive'

Northeastern Ariz. water rights settlement ‘too expensive’   By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/2/2011:  WINDOW ROCK – The proposed $800 million Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement approved by the Navajo Nation last November is “too expensive” and will not be introduced to Congress in its current form, according to court documents.   An April 19 report from Arizona Superior Court Special Master George A. Schade Jr., states that parties to the settlement were informed March 24 by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that the proposed settlement is too expensive. Navajo Nation water rights attorney Stanley Pollack stated in the report that Kyl is unwilling to introduce legislation to authorize the settlement in its current form given the current political and fiscal climate in Washington.

However, Kyl encouraged the parties to reach new settlement language by June so that he might submit legislation to Congress prior to his retirement in 2012 at the end of the current Congress. Pollack informed Schade that the parties were scheduled to meet with Kyl last week in Phoenix to discuss possible terms. Since being advised that the proposed settlement is too expensive, the negotiating parties have been meeting to revise the terms and make it less costly.

The Navajo Nation’s San Juan River water rights settlement also had an estimated price tag of $800 million.

Pollack noted that terms approved Nov. 4, 2010, by the 21st Navajo Nation Council for the Northeastern Arizona settlement are no longer up for consideration because the settlement does not have a chance for success in Congress. No action was taken by the Hopi Tribe, as the document had not gone out to the villages for consideration by the Hopi people.

Under the proposed agreement – which had grassroots Navajos marching on Window Rock in protest – the Navajo Nation would receive 31,000 acre-feet of “fourth priority” water per year, while Navajo Generating Station would receive 34,100 acre-feet per year of Upper Basin water for its continued operation.

Any new settlement terms will require approval by the 22nd Navajo Nation Council and the 32 other parties to the settlement. Pollack reported that he does not anticipate that the terms will be approved by the time federal legislation is introduced.

When contacted Friday, Pollack said he was “hamstrung” from discussing the matter by confidentiality orders, however, he did say, “The Arizona discussions are not dead.”

The settlement springs from the Little Colorado River adjudication which has been ongoing since March 14, 2003, when the Navajo Nation took legal action challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s operation of various management programs in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. Numerous parties have since intervened, among them the state of Arizona, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Salt River Project, Arizona Power Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the state of Nevada.

The Navajo Nation and the United States stipulated to granting all motions to intervene and to a two-year stay of the litigation so the Interior could appoint an Indian water rights settlement team and pursue efforts to resolve the Nation’s water rights claims through negotiation and settlement.

On April 12, parties involved in the case requested a four-month extension of stay until Aug. 15 in the federal court case, the Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior, et al., and U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt granted the stay April 19. The court has repeatedly granted extensions of the original stay issued in October 2004.

Water from the Little Colorado River system could affect the magnitude of the Nation’s claim to water from the main stem Colorado River. In 2005, the parties acknowledged that resources within the Little Colorado River Basin are not sufficient to secure a permanent homeland for the Navajo people. The “Kyl Report” and other studies have reached the conclusion that there would be a need for some imported water supplies from the Colorado River.

During November’s protest in Window Rock, Jeneda Benally said the Navajo people were opposed to having their water rights “sold out underneath us, because our future generations … are going to be affected by this decision, and 31,000 acre-feet of water is not enough. We need to be able to sustain ourselves as a people, and for that we need water. Water is life.”

Many of the grassroots people also were upset that the language called for waiving all “past, present and future claims for water rights arising from time immemorial” that are based upon aboriginal occupancy. Navajo also would waive any claims for injury to water quality – another concern of residents who have been impacted by past coal and uranium mining.