Gallup Independent

Monday, Nov. 14, 2005
Number 268 Volume
118 Page 1A

Officials tour area affected by water rights settlement

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau

WINDOW ROCK --U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman and New Mexico State Engineer John D'Antonio on Saturday toured areas affected by the proposed San Juan River water rights settlement.

Bingaman and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici are co-architects of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In a press release Saturday morning from the president's office, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., said, "This settlement is crucial to the Navajo Nation. We are hosting this tour because it is vital that people see the conditions that some of our people are living in right now."

"There are people in America without running water. This is one of the primary reasons why we need to move forward with this water project."

D'Antonio said the negotiation is a move in the right direction and the result of much hard work and cooperation between the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico and the federal government.

"Navajos and non-Navajos have waited many years for a resolution of water claims in this region and this settlement protects existing uses of water and gives these communities a secure future," D'Antonio said.

Under the proposed San Juan settlement, the Navajo Nation would have the right to use (divert) 606,660 acre-feet per year and the right to consume (deplete) 325,670 acre-feet per year, plus 50 percent of any additional apportionment. An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons.

Total proposed settlement cost is $613,800,000. The revised settlement which passed the Navajo Nation Council in December 2004 eliminated language that would have increased the budget ceiling for Navajo Indian Irrigation Project by $341 million and authorized $31.8 million in rehabilitation expenses.

Sources within the Navajo Nation say that if Congress fails to support the San Juan settlement package, it is expected that Domenici will try to put together a package tied to a big water project for California, though probably not this year.

The proposed settlement agreement would resolve the Navajo Nation's water rights without litigation, supply water to Gallup, N.M., and recognize existing and authorized uses of water In the San Juan River Basin, including the San Juan-Chama Project that will provide drinking water to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, according to George Hardeen, Shirley's communications director.

'WIN-WIN SOLUTION'

Gallup Mayor Bob Rosebrough, whose city may be out of water in 15 years, called the settlement a "win-win solution for everyone involved and crucial for all of us depending on water from the San Juan Basin."

The San Juan settlement agreement would provide for the development of a rural water supply system to serve Indians and non-Indian residents in northwest New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation in far western Arizona, Hardeen said.

The Navajo-Gallup Project calls for building a main trunk line. Piping water to individual homes would be a separate matter to be dealt with by Indian Health Service and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

The settlement also calls for a Farmington-Shiprock Municipal Pipeline which would have a right to divert 4,680 acre-feet annually. There is no set diversion limit for "extra diversion for municipal and industrial."

"The settlement is a bold step to address the need for a water system in this area of New Mexico and will have far-reaching benefits to multiple communities," Bingaman said.

Domenici, who is also chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Committee, warned in April that legislation authorizing the settlement "will be very difficult to fund given the huge budget deficits confronting the nation."

He spoke in September in Washington to a group of water experts and representatives from 12 Department of Energy laboratories -- led by Sandia -- known as the "Energy-Water Roadmap" group, which is charged by Congress with creating a "roadmap" for assuring sufficient energy and water in the future.

"Energy and water are interdependent. We cannot have sufficient energy without having sufficient water," Domenici said.

ENERGY WATER ROADMAP

As part of the recently enacted National Energy Policy Act of 2005, DOE was directed to research, develop, demonstrate and commercialize programs to address interdependent energy and water problems. Domenici, through the appropriations committee, has provided funding through Sandia to undertake the roadmapping effort, expected to take about a year.

The Energy Policy Act also calls for a one-year study of tribal rights-of-way which could give the Secretary of the Interior final say in determining just compensation for rights-of-way when tribes and companies are in dispute, and granting those rights-of-way despite tribal protests.

On Valentine's Day 2004, Sen. Bingaman, top Democrat on the Senate, Energy & Natural Resources Committee chaired by Domenici, renewed his effort to focus more attention on developing energy resources on Indian lands by introducing a bipartisan measure mean to spur energy production in Indian Country.

"Energy production on tribal lands holds great promise. It is my belief that we can help meet our future energy needs by tapping into those resources. At the same time, such a move would provide new economic development opportunities in Indian Country, where jobs are scarce," Bingaman said.

The bill was designed to help Indian tribes tap into energy resources by establishing a "Comprehensive Indian Energy Program" at the U.S. Department of Energy, which would assist with grants and loans for energy resource development.

The legislation also proposed to "cut red tape imposed by the federal government on Indian tribes that seek to lease land and rights-of-way for energy production and transmission," Bingaman said.

According to the Department of the Interior, only a quarter of the oil resources and less than a fifth of the natural gas resources on tribal lands have been developed.

This past January, Bingaman and five other senators asked the White House to increase federal funding for domestic oil and gas research-and-development programs in the Fiscal Year 2006 budget request.

The letter to U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolton also asked the White House not to cut funding for the Bureau of Land Management's onshore oil and gas management activities.

In addition to sponsoring the nation's new energy policy, Domenici and Bingaman co-sponsored the Rural Water Supply Act of 2005, which authorizes the U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation to establish a program to plan, design and construct rural water supply projects.

The act establishes a federal loan guarantee program within the Bureau of Reclamation that allows rural communities to obtain loans at interest rates far lower than loans not guaranteed by the federal government.