Navajo water deal comes under fire

SANTA FE (KRQE) – A big water fight is brewing between the state and the Navajo Nation.

In the middle of a drought here in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation is getting a lot of it.

A group of lawmakers say the deal that made that happen under former Governor Bill Richardson isn’t fair or constitutional and they want something done about it.

“Water has become an extremely big issue in the state of New Mexico,” State Representative Carl Trujillo, a democrat from Santa Fe said.

It’s an issue that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“This drought situation that we’re in, we don’t know what the new norm is,” Trujillo said. “We have to identify what the norm is. We have to make sure that we have water for all.”

When former Governor Bill Richardson signed a deal with the Navajo Nation on water rights back in 2010, it raised some eyebrows. Trujillo says the settlement is illegal.

“It’s unconstitutional,” Trujillo said. “It needs to be ratified by the legislature and that’s why we’re sitting here today is because of that reason.”

Trujillo says that deal never went through the legislature, adding any tribal compacts, such as water and gambling, have to.

“A lot of this is preserving the right of the legislature,” Trujillo said.

To preserve that right, Trujillo and a handful of other lawmakers have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to void the deal and have a new one submitted to the legislature.

“There are many people in the Legislature, Representatives, Senators who have a lot of knowledge on water and they’re all representing different people from across the state,” Trujillo said.

The deal in place has been approved by a District Court judge in San Juan County and would give the Navajo Nation 600,000 acre feet of water from the San Juan River every year.

That’s six times the amount Albuquerque gets, for a population a third of the size.

“It’s unclear how it’s going to affect those commitments on the San Juan Chama Diversion.

Trujillo says the Navajo are no doubt entitled to a good chunk of water, but the deal needs to run it’s legal course.

Lawmakers say the deal Richardson agreed to is costing the state millions.

We reached out to the Navajo Nation but didn’t hear back. Attorneys did tell the Associated Press they hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but oppose any changes to the settlement.

Lawmakers are also concerned the Navajo Nation could sell off its portion of the water to other cities.

An appeal has already been filed in the District Court decision.

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