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Major Arizona tribal water rights legislation introduced

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(The Center Square) – Newly introduced legislation aims to tackle the longstanding Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement at the federal level.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Mark Kelly and backed by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, as well as Reps. Juan Ciscomani, Greg Stanton, Raul Grijalva and David Schweikert, would allow $5 billion for water infrastructure purposes and ultimately give the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe roughly 10 miles of Colorado River access and the power to lease their water resources, according to a news release from Kelly’s office.

“This legislation and the settlement it ratifies represent a historic step forward in resolving a decades-long water rights dispute, providing certainty and stability for the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe. Securing water rights for these tribes upholds their sovereignty and lays the path for their growth and prosperity through increased investment in water infrastructure,” Kelly said in a statement on Monday. “Ratifying this settlement honors our commitment to the tribes and helps secure our state’s water future, and we’ll work together as Republicans and Democrats to get it done.”

The legislation comes as welcome news to Navajo Nation leaders as roughly a third of those who live on the reservation still face a lack of access to “running water,” according to the Navajo Water Project.

“Tens of thousands of Navajo people in Arizona do not have water in their homes. The infrastructure funded under the bill secures the necessary water supply that will serve these families’ homes,” Navajo Nation Speaker Crystalyne Curley said in a statement. “Without this settlement, our communities will remain disproportionately vulnerable to diseases, and development on the Reservation will continue to be restricted by the lack of water infrastructure. Consequently, we are extremely grateful for the introduction of this landmark legislation.”

In addition, the act dubbed the “Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement (NAIWRSA) Act of 2024” would also provide a reservation to the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

“The Tribe has waited far too long to have an exclusive reservation of its own. The opportunities made available through this legislation will change the lives of our Tribal Members and the trajectory of our Tribe. With reliable electricity, water and housing our people will have opportunities that have never been available to us before,” Robbin Preston Jr., President of the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, said in a statement. “This legislation is more than a settlement of water rights, it is the establishment of an exclusive reservation for a Tribe that will no longer be forced to live like strangers in our own land.”

Arizona’s senatorial delegation will frequently announce taxpayer funding that goes toward water projects in the state, usually from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but this is a piece of legislation that will require both chambers to pass it and President Joe Biden’s signature.

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