Navajo Water Commissioner Manheimer Stresses Need for Good Agreement in Water Rights Case

Leo Manheimer

The Navajo Nation has been in litigation over our Little Colorado River water rights for 33 years and the litigation continues today. The children who were born when this fight began are now grown and are caring for children of their own.

One thing has been true throughout every moment of our people’s history—whether it was centuries ago when our ancestors grazed their herds on these same lands, or today—water means life. There is nothing more important to our children and to our families than access to clean, reliable sources of water.

As a member of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, my highest priority is to find a resolution that secures and protects our sacred rights to water. And I know that our claim to this land runs much deeper than any federal agreement or Supreme Court ruling.

But our claim to our water is put at risk if we continue to pursue litigation. In court, there are two sides, and one side ultimately will prevail. There is always a chance that the loser could be us, and courts have become increasingly unfriendly to tribal rights.

Working together with the Hopi Tribe, the other major users of Little Colorado River water and our Senate delegation, we have forged another path to secure clean, reliable drinking water for future generations. This path comes with hundreds of millions of dollars for needed infrastructure to deliver that water to homes and remote communities on the Navajo Nation that have never had this lifeline. This agreement, the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement, provides certainty for our people.

If passed, the legislation would approve an agreement negotiated with the participation of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission and the Water and Energy Team of the Hopi Tribe that preserves the waters of the Little Colorado River for future Navajo and Hopi development and protects our aquifers. That means dependable drinking water for our homes, businesses, hospitals and schools—especially in under-served areas in the southern part of our Nation.

Contrary to misleading statements that have been circulating through our community, this agreement secures our rights. It ensures that Tribal members will have access to Little Colorado River water that flows through our nation. Right now, we can do nothing to stop outsiders who buy land upstream from taking this water before it reaches us or from pumping groundwater out from under us.

If this settlement isn’t approved and we choose to keep going for years or even decades in litigation—we risk losing water that should rightfully be ours. We cannot allow Little Colorado River water to be taken away. With the settlement we protect our water rights and also get money necessary for projects to deliver water to Navajo communities.

I urge you to learn the truth about this agreement and talk to your friends and neighbors about the importance of the agreement for our future.

Leo Manheimer is a Navajo Nation Water Rights Commissioner representing the Western Navajo Agency.

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ndnscientist's picture
Respect Sir, I find that your letter to the Indian Country journal to be exactly the same as a recent letter by a Nation Department of Natural Resources employee. It is worrisome when people use scripted dialog because it gives the perception of coercion. This perception is amplified when fear tactics are used. This brings more questions than answers to this dilemma. It might be a better use of reporting if the basic questions are answered like who are the bidders for the infrastructure contract? What is their reputation? Is the infrastructure plan sustainable or will this place the Nations in debt for which water rights are the gamble lost? What are the guarantees? What are the impacts to the lands when this infrastructure is being developed? Who pays for it? Why are there no other options? Are endangered or threatened species protected? Is this new contract to supersede treaties that guarantee water rights for every descendent for eternity? Are the elder's wisdom being considered? What about water quality? How is the water quality issues guaranteed if this new infrastructure is developed and what is the pollution reputation of those living up stream (developed waterways)? How does this infrastructure effect ground water, runoff, aquifers, irrigation, and if Mother nature decides to change the river or tributaries, does that put water sovereignty rights at risk? There is a long history of mistrust with private contractors and the government who make big promises to Indians using their lands in the balance, only to place Indigenous people further in debt and dependence. It is purposeful, and we must be cautious for the last remaining sustainable lands and waters are on Indigenous lands. Non-Indians will do anything to get their hands on it. There is proof of many dirty dealings on Indigenous people by corporate infrastructure contractors. Unless the tribes, themselves, are building this infrastructure, without having to rely on loans that place water, land, and sovereignty in jeopardy, I would suggest people vote NO. These are only but a few questions that I have not seen answered in this quagmire.
badger's picture
It is very important that the water agreement includes ONLY the Little Colorado River, because currently it includes the Lower and Upper Colorado Basin water area. The upper states are Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming. The agreement may affect other tribes located within the CO River Basin and affect their Winters Water adjudication process.