The Navajo Utah Water Right Settlement is a long time coming.
Two days after Christmas President Donald Trump finally signed the omnibus appropriations package totaling $2.3 trillion. The omnibus bill includes $1.4 trillion for federal spending and $900 billion for COVID-19 relief, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on Dec. 21 along with the water rights settlement.
This settlement has been years in the making. It settles all current and future claims by the Navajo Nation for water rights within Utah; confirms the Navajo Nation’s right to deplete 81,500 acre-feet of water per year from Utah’s Colorado River Basin apportionment; and authorizes approximately $220 million for water infrastructure to provide clean drinking water to Navajo communities in Utah.
“It was a big effort by Navajo. It’s been in the works for so long,” said President Jonathan Nez, who remembers this settlement being in the works even before being elected as a Navajo Nation Council Delegate…
Nez said that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was key to the bill’s passage. In a release Herbert stated it represents 15 years of “good faith work between our governments.”
Others who were instrumental include former Council Delegate Davis Filfred, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Mitt Romney (both R-Utah) and former Navajo Department of Justice attorney Stanley Pollack, among other people.
In 2003, a memorandum of agreement between the Navajo Nation and the state of Utah allowed the two sides to formally enter into discussions to determine the water rights of the Nation.
In December of 2015, representatives from the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources and Department of Justice, along with the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, reached an agreement with the state of Utah as to the quantification and settlement of water rights claims.
“It’s a settlement,” said former Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates said. “That is very important. It’s no longer a claim. It’s a settlement.”
After two work sessions and other lengthy discussion to accept the proposed agreement, the 23rd Navajo Nation Council passed it. Bates remembers some delegates were “threatened” if they voted green.
Andrew Curley, assistant professor in the School of Geography Development, & Environment at the University of Arizona, has some qualms about the landmark settlement.
“Water settlements are like treaties and always come with concessions,” said Curley. “Unfortunately we have a political culture that doesn’t discuss the costs of settlements, costs like future and expanded claims to water, priority rights, who gets water first in times of drought, or even how sometimes water settlements impact our land claims through legal chicanery.”
He added that the Utah settlement appears to be better than past proposals, in terms of quantity of water and trade-offs. But the Navajo Nation has to remember that the state governments stole all this water in the first place, he said…
But Bates and Nez both said the settlement could lead to resolving the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement…
Bates said the Arizona settlement would require more strategy and negotiation. But for now the Utah Water Settlement will be able to address the more than 40 percent of Navajo households in Utah that lack running water or adequate sanitation.
The Elizabeth Board of Trustees voted to adopt the 2021 budget at the Dec. 8 meeting. The budget was submitted in October, and a public hearing was held Nov. 24, where taxpayers were given the chance to raise any objections. The budget includes five funds—the general fund, street maintenance fund, street capital improvement fund, water sewer fund and a capital improvement fund, and the estimated balance of all funds going into 2021 totals $12,666,057…
The estimated general fund for 2021 includes $50,689 from unappropriated surpluses, and projects $2,134,782 from other sources such as water and sewer fees. Property taxes will account for $631,286, bringing the general fund total to $2,816,757. The general fund is used to pay for administration, courts, police services, community development and parks and building maintenance.
The street maintenance fund estimates $461,947, the street capital improvement fund comes in at $4,773,644, the water sewer fund is estimated at $4,243,709, and the capital improvement fund at $370,000.
Larimer County has approved a development agreement that delves into details surrounding construction of certain aspects of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The county commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise, putting into writing some of the specific requirements that the elected board had put into place earlier in approving a 1041 permit for the water supply project…
The agreement focuses on recreational facilities for Glade Reservoir, and the amount of money Northern Water committed to that piece, as well as pipeline details, environmental mitigations and requirements surrounding the relocation of U.S. 287.
It puts in writing that the county will be involved in construction meetings and inspections and lays out some safety requirements.
“This agreement really protects the interest of Larimer County … whether one supports this project or not,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, who along with Commissioner Tom Donnelly voted to approve the development agreement. (Both commissioners also voted in September to grant the 1041 permit, which allows the county some input on certain aspects of this water storage and pipeline project.)
The county does not have final say over whether the Northern Integrated Supply Project will be built. That approval would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal agency’s decision is expected soon, following more than a decadelong environmental process.
Johnson stressed that the county does not have final say but that he wants to have some say on safety, recreation and construction that will affect residents…
Larimer County has agreed to manage the recreation on and around Glade Reservoir, with Northern Water committing to $20.6 million for recreational facilities and with either the county or another yet-to-be-identified partner bringing $3.775 million to the table.
The money would cover parking lots, boat ramps, a visitors center, camping areas and environmental mitigations at the reservoir and on the surrounding land.
Commissioner John Kefalas, the sole Democrat on the board and the lone vote against the 1041 permit in September, also voted against the development agreement Tuesday. He said he understands the purpose is to describe the water developer’s obligations to the county and “to enhance the general welfare of the county,” but that he had concerns about some pieces of the agreement and could not vote in favor of it without further information.
The development agreement was included on the consent agenda at the commissioners’ weekly administrative matters meeting. The consent agenda typically is a list of actions approved without discussion and all by a single vote. Kefalas moved the item from that single vote so the board could discuss it.
“My rationale for pulling this item from the consent agenda is first to highlight that approval of the NISP project is indeed one of the most significant decisions made by this board of county commissioners, one that will impact Larimer County and future generations in many ways,” Kefalas said. “As such, this development merits public attention and scrutiny and, from my perspective, it is necessary for the people to see how this NISP agreement seeks to mitigate the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Glade Reservoir.”
He also expressed “serious concerns” about the overall project and said two provisions in the agreement add to those worries. He highlighted wording in the agreement that stresses that recreation is a secondary use to the water supply and that Northern Water, which will manage the project, may vary water levels and may modify design and location, at its sole discretion, for operations, maintenance or other issues to prioritize water supply over recreational uses.
“So I ask the question: What will happen to the recreational benefits of the NISP project if it takes 10 years to fill the reservoir perhaps due to higher temperatures, extended droughts and reduced snowpack?” Kefalas said. “Without a science-based answer to this question today, I cannot support this NISP development agreement.”
The Grand Canyon landscape contains some of the Southwests most unique ecosystems of rivers, springs and riparian zones. These areas are home to many plant and animal species, some found nowhere else in the world, or that represent the last viable populations holding on for existence.
The human connection to these areas also holds much significance for many Indigenous cultures here in the Southwest. The relationship between natural environments and Indigenous peoples is the foundation for much of our traditions, beliefs and values. Therefore, the result of healthy lands, air, water, and the plant and animals that reside within, manifests in healthy Indigenous communities.
Over the years, the water environments of the Grand Canyon have faced threats from various proposals, including uranium mining, pumping of limited groundwater, and large-scale development along the river banks. One area that continues to receive repeated attention is the Little Colorado River (LCR).
First, the Escalade Project sought to construct a large-scale tourist attraction on the rim overlooking the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. This also included a tramway from the rim down to the rivers edge. This proposal was ultimately defeated, for now.
Currently there are at least 3 new proposals threatening the fragile ecosystem of this area. Outside interests are seeking to build a series of dams within the walls of the LCR Gorge. These dams would flood large areas of the canyon floor, irrevocably damaging areas that are of high cultural significance to many local tribes, including the Hopi Salt Trail and the Hopi Emergence place.
“We are of water, The water is of us.
When water is threatened,
All living things are threatened.
What we do to water,
We do to our selves.”
–Hopi Hisat Navoti Gathering, October 23, 2003, Second Mesa
It is difficult to superficially discuss the connection between Hopi culture and water, in all its forms, including springs. This connection is held within the hearts and minds of Hopi people and cannot be easily explained in terms of geologic formation and hydrological processes.
The Hopi Tribe’s Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) states (2001:30), “Water resources come in many forms such as springs, lakes, streams, rain, snow and fog. Water comes from the earth and is also a divine gift from the ancestors and Hopi religious deities. All Hopi ceremonies center around the need for water and it is a major cultural theme.”
Centrality of water is expressed in every aspect of Hopi life—thought, prayer, song, dance, and artworks (Sekaquaptewa et al. 2015).
Therefore, the importance of springs (Nööngava, water flowing out) within Hopi culture cannot be understated. Since “Time Immemorial”, the phenomena of naturally occurring springs are proof to Hopi people that greater forces exist in the physical world we inhabit. The life-sustaining waters that issue forth are a precious resource, allowing Hopi people and their ancestors to survive within a desert environment. Springs are key components of a Hopi Cultural Landscape; one that is imbued with the history of a living culture such as Hopi.
Due to this importance, many springs are formally consecrated with religious shrines, obtaining ritual significance that is recalled in Hopi oral history, song, prayer, and ceremony. To this day, water is collected from springs, some from great distances, and used within ceremonies at Hopi. The riparian environments associated with springs and other water sources are also considered culturally important. Specific springs are often visited to collect flora, fauna, minerals and pigments, which are used in ceremonies, as medicine or as utilitarian items.
In ancestral and historic times, springs drew people together, often being the place at which villages were built and named for, such as Paaqavi, “Reed Springs Village” located on Third Mesa. When a great drought occurred across the Southwest in the late 12th century, many Hopi clans migrated to areas where more reliable springs could be found, including the southern Black Mesa area, where the modern Hopi villages are located. In recent years, when some of these springs began to dwindle in output, or even completely dry up, Hopi people considered this a manifestation of a much larger problem than simply drought-related.
The Hopi Tribe’s IRMP states (2001:30), “Since aquifers depend on infiltration of surface water for recharge, they are vulnerable to overuse, drought, contamination and harmful human activities.” The Hopi people understand that there are connections between springs, the water found therein and its subterranean origins. These connections are both physical and spiritual.
For Hopi people, springs are considered to be living entities that breathe and exhale moisture; a metaphysical connection between the spiritual world of ancestors and the natural world of their descendants. “Water under the ground has much to do with rain clouds. Everything depends upon the proper balance being maintained. The water under the ground acts like a magnet attracting rain from the clouds and the rain in the clouds acts as a magnet raising the water table under the ground to the roots of our crops and plants” (Hopi elders and religious leaders, 1972).
The granting of life from one world to another is commemorated with ceremonial offerings left at springs, which formally acknowledge our ancestors’ existence, as they acknowledge ours.
Blue Spring (Sakwa’vaahu) located along the Little Colorado River near the Confluence of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, is one of thousands of springs that exist within the ancestral Hopi homeland. The sensitive details of its religious context remains with Hopi practitioners, however, due to its proximity to Sipaapuni, the Hopi Emergence point – a spiritual and cultural genesis – its significance takes on added meaning. It is akin to Holy Water within a church.
The geographic area around Blue Spring and the Sipaapuni is also imbued with the essence of departed Hopi ancestors, who visit their Hopi relatives in the form of clouds and other moisture. Accordingly, the Blue Springs region is hallowed ground where Hopi ancestors reside, serving as spiritual guardians of the Grand Canyon and Hopi culture.
Again, due to its close association to the Hopi Emergence point and the Hopi Salt Trail (both of which are associated with life-fulfillment traditions for Hopi people), Blue Spring is intimately connected to a larger worldview of Hopi life. Yet, although Sakwa’vaahu lies outside the modern boundaries of the now established Hopi Reservation (a result of federal land policy), the traditional knowledge and connection to Hopi people remains.
In addition, because of its unique qualities of issuing beautiful turquoise blue waters, Sakwa’vaahu serves as a metaphorical representation of a verdant and healthy ecosystem: “blue/green is a significant color because it is the color of plants and thus symbolic or growth as well as because it is the color of water and thus symbolic of rain (Sekaquaptewa et al. 2015:26). As with other springs known to Hopi people, a significant drop in the output at Blue Spring is an indicator of environmental changes or impacts elsewhere, which can negatively affect the spiritual well-being of Hopi people and their culture.
Hopi Anthropologist Ferrell Secakuku states (2005), “… every time we go out (to pray and leave offerings)…we also go to a spring…because the spring is very, very important. That represents the blood line of the earth, our mother….” Thus the importance of springs encompasses more than our daily need for survival. Springs are inter-twined with cultural preservation as a whole. As the opening statement remarks, springs are a reflection of the current state of our environment; ecologically, culturally and spiritually.
The Hopi Tribe’s IRMP states (2001:30): Paavahu, Water Resources, are highly valued by the Hopi as a main source of life in a harsh and arid environment. The central focus in Hopi ceremonial life is the propitiation of moisture in its various forms. Moisture provides for the domestic and agricultural needs of Hopi people as well as the supernatural and spiritual essence of Hopitutskwa, the Hopi indigenous lands. As a valuable natural resource to the Hopi people, water must be protected and conserved so that we may all fulfill our ultimate stewardship responsibility: the needs of our children and future generations for this life giving resource.
Hopi Elders and Religious Leaders. 1972. Oral Testimony from the Hopi Hearings. Transcript on file, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.
Hopi Tribe, et al. 2001. Hopi Tutskwat Makiwa’yta: Soosoy Himu Hopit Tutavoyat ev Hintsaktiwqa Qatsit Oovi Natwaniwa (Hop Land Stewardship: An Integrated Resources Management Plan for the Hopi Reservation).
Secakuku, Ferrell. 2005. Interview transcript on file, “Siitala Life in Balance, World in Bloom” exhibit planning project, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.
Sekaquaptewa, Emory, Kenneth C. Hill, and Dorothy K. Washburn. 2015. Hopi Katsina Songs. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
The historic wildfire season of 2020 could impact drinking water for more than a million Colorado residents. Environmental researchers and natural resource specialists have conducted a BAER Survey, which stands for Burned Area Emergency Response.
The survey evaluated how the record-breaking Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires could impact Colorado’s snowpack and watershed.
The Poudre and Upper Colorado River Basins provide drinking water for more than a million people in northern Colorado, and soon those in Thornton. The Colorado River also flows from Willow Creek Reservoir near Granby to Las Vegas and farther southwest.
The months-long battle with both blazes charred the natural filters along rivers and creeks, which eventually provide drinking water for most of the northern front range.
“Our concerns really are actually about the entire watershed,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
In an interview with CBS4’s Logan Smith, Stahla said the approach to preserving and protecting the watershed in the years to come was directly altered by the High Park Fire of 2012, where researchers learned what to do and what not to do.
For example, pulling undersized culverts and digging water bars is more effective than reseeding or spreading hay bales.
“This is something you won’t be able to resolve by dropping seeds from a helicopter, the scale is so large,” Stahla said. “The concern is that if there is a large weather event that occurs over that area, that you will have uncontrolled removal of debris and sediment that will go in to our reservoirs.”
During the fires of 2020, water conservation experts monitored how the burn scar could impact drinking water.
“We recognized that it was no longer just a small localized event, but it was something that would effect the entire Upper Colorado River shed,” Stahla said.
Due to the extended period the fires burned, especially the Cameron Peak Fire, not every area of the burn scars impact nearby rivers and streams equally. While some portions of the terrain were significantly burned with hot fire that “resided” in the same spot for an extended period, others were more fortunate.
Stahla said many local water districts are now teaming up to help protect the health of the watershed in the years to come. By unifying and prioritizing the health of the water system as a whole, Stahla said the strength of the landscape and watershed can bounce back quicker…
Researchers hope to return to the burn scars in the spring once snow has melted to evaluate next steps. Local municipalities are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process.