It’s been a long, thirsty road for the Hualapai and Navajo Indian tribes.
After years of appeals to U.S. lawmakers, the House Natural Resources subcommittee heard what’s been described as the culmination of years of hard work and compromise between government agencies and the tribes in asserting tribal water rights. Next week, the Mohave County Supervisors will vote on whether to lend their support for two bills that will guarantee Navajo and Hualapai water rights on the Colorado River.
Congressman Paul Gosar, a member of the subcommittee, last week voiced support for the bills, which would create a $210 million fund to enhance the Navajo tribe’s water infrastructure, with an allotment of 81,500 acre-feet of water for Navajo communities. The bill will also guarantee 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water to the Hualapai tribe, with an agreement to build a pipeline and water treatment plant to serve Hualapai communities.
Next Monday the Mohave County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a resolution submitted by District 1 Supervisor Gary Watson, potentially offering support for the bills, HR 2459 and SB 1277. According to Watson’s resolution, projects offered under the proposed legislation would allow tribes to continue their efforts at economic development while creating hundreds of jobs for both Hualapai tribe members and Mohave County residents.
According to testimony to the Natural Resources subcommittee by Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke, the tribe has lacked a secure and replenishable water supply, which has prevented the tribe from gaining economic self-sufficiency. The tribe has relied on wells for its water needs, Clarke said, two of which have failed due to drought.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also addressed lawmakers last week on the tribes’ need.
“The consequences of lack of access to reliable, potable water supplies can be staggering,” Nez said. “With this guarantee of water, we will be able to live in a more harmonious state in our permanent homeland for generations to come.”
The bill hasn’t been without opposition, however. Last month, the National Parks Conservation Association voiced concerns as to the pipeline’s possible environmental impact, and how vulnerable the pipeline may be to frequent flooding in the Grand Canyon region.
“We understand the scarcity of water in this area of the country and do not disagree with the intent of the bill,” Parks Conservation Association officials said in a June 26 statement to the Natural Resources subcommittee.
“We do, however, have concerns about the pipeline project outlined in the bill. The (NPCA) opposes the bill because the authorized pipeline construction skirts full (National Environmental Policy Act) compliance … it is possible that the water extracted for this pipeline will be way beyond the predicted uses of the Hualapai tribe.”
According to National Parks Conservation Association officials, the organization would instead support an increased use of groundwater available for development on the reservation, which the organization says would provide necessary groundwater to the Hualapai tribe while avoiding potential delays and impacts of pipeline construction.