WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led a legislative hearing to review two bills that would resolve the water rights claims of the Navajo Nation and the Hualapai Tribe. The bills would authorize negotiated settlements based on years of collaboration between Tribal, local, state, and federal parties.
“Indian water settlements are critically important — not only to fulfilling the United States’ fiduciary obligations to Tribes, but also for the long-term economic vitality of the surrounding communities,” Udall said in remarks submitted for the record. “This is especially true for my home state of New Mexico and across the West, where water is the lifeblood of many communities, both Indian and non-Indian.”
Water insecurity challenges faced by Indian and non-Indian communities in the West have been exacerbated by climate change, Udall added. “Our long-term water supply and consumption are out of balance – even with current conservation efforts. Every year brings a new ‘warmest year on record’ forecast and with it increased water insecurity across the arid West,” he said. “We must work together to tackle these big challenges. Collectively, we must step up our efforts to combat climate change as we plan for a changing planet and what it means for our future water supplies.”
“We need more collaboration and less litigation when it comes managing water in the 21st century,” Udall continued. “Indian water rights settlements are a perfect example of the benefits of collaboration over litigation. These settlements fund vital water infrastructure for communities that may have gone decades without adequate sources of water, while also providing certainty and fostering cooperation within and among communities and all water stakeholders.”
Looking toward the future, Udall said he will work to ensure that Congress “makes adequate funding available for these settlements.”