Bill introduced to settle Navajo water rights claim 4-20-07

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - A long-standing water dispute in New Mexico's San Juan Basin would be resolved under legislation introduced by members of the state's congressional delegation.

The Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico signed a settlement agreement in April 2005 that resolves the tribe's water claims in the basin. But Congress must enact legislation before it can be officially settled.

The Senate legislation was introduced Thursday by Democrat Jeff Bingaman and Republican Pete Domenici. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced the measure in the House.

``This bill brings to conclusion many years of negotiations and would ensure that the Navajo Nation, cities of Gallup and Farmington, and other water users in the basin have adequate and assured quantities of water supplies into the future,'' Bingaman said in a statement.

Bingaman also said the measure would protect the interests of those receiving water from the San Juan-Chama project, which funnels water from southern Colorado into New Mexico for Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and other areas.

The legislation recognizes about 600,000 acre-feet per year of water to the Navajo Nation for agricultural, municipal, industrial, domestic and stock watering purposes. An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.

The measure also authorizes federal funding for the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline project and various water conservation projects.

The federal government would contribute funding over about two decades for the pipeline and to perform other activities under the agreement.

The bill doesn't include a dollar amount because the federal government is finalizing the cost of the pipeline project. However, it includes language that guarantees that federal funding will be available.

Domenici noted that the legislation is the beginning of a long process.

``I will continue to listen carefully to the concerns New Mexicans have with this settlement as we move it through Congress,'' he said.

Udall said he will work to get ``this important water project'' through the House.

``The Navajo Nation, the state of New Mexico and many other residents of northwestern New Mexico have put tremendous effort into reaching an agreement that will provide a more secure future for many vulnerable communities,'' he said.

Bingaman and Domenici, members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, plan hearings on the bill in the next few months. The House version was sent to the House Resources Committee.