Approximately 5,000 residents of the Navajo Nation live in Utah communities south of the San Juan River. Under an agreement signed today by Gov. Spencer Cox and Navajo officials, those residents will finally get access to clean, running water (Image courtesy of Facebook).

MONUMENT VALLEY – Gov. Spencer Cox joined U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and officials of the Navajo Nation here to sign a federal reserved water rights settlement agreement today.

The agreement recognizes and protects the reserved water rights of the Navajo Nation and will bring clean drinking water to the Navajo people in Utah.

The signing ceremony took place at the Navajo Nation Welcome Center in Monument Valley.

The agreement, which has been in dispute for 18 years, was also signed Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation and Doreen McPaul, attorney general of the Navajo Nation.

Also on hand for the historic signing were Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson; Sen. Mitt Romney; representative of state and federal agencies; and officials of the Navajo Nation.

The settlement recognizes a reserved water right of 81,500 acre-feet of water for current and future use by the state of Utah.

The agreement also obliges the federal government to pay the Navajo Nation more than $210 million toward drinking water infrastructure to communities in Utah south of the San Juan River. The state of Utah will contribute $8 million to the project.

The Navajo Nation is a Native American reservation that sprawls over 27,000 square miles and extends into the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

A tribal government was established in 1923 after the discovery of oil on reservation lands. That has since evolved into the largest and most sophisticated form of Native American government, located at Window Rock, AZ.

Unlike many reservations, the Navajo Nation has expanded several times since its establishment to include most of northeastern Arizona, a sizable portion of northwestern New Mexico and most of the area south of the San Juan River in southeastern Utah.

With a population now exceeding 250,000, the Navajo Nation is one of the few indigenous nations whose reservation lands overlap its traditional homelands.

In 2003, the Navajo Nation sued the federal government for allegedly failing to protect enough Colorado River water for the tribes’ use.

As a result of that failure, attorney’s for the Navajo Nation argued, homes in the Utah tribal communities of Aneth, Monument Valley, Westwater and others have been without running, fresh water.

Under the complicated agreement signed today, the Navajo Nation ceded the contested water rights to Utah and the federal government paid the Navajo $210 million to fund water infrastructure, while Utah chipped in another $8 million.

Romney said that a bill which outlined that compromise was originally introduced by the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Romney pushed the legislation passed both houses of Congress after replacing Hatch in 2019, setting the stage of the signing of today’s historic agreement.

This funding will eventually provide drinking water to all 5,000 residents of the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, many of whom are scattered around in remote parts of southern San Juan County.

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