In Las Vegas today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley signed the San Juan Navajo Water Rights agreement. The signing took place as part of the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.
“By signing this agreement today, the Obama administration is taking another step toward honoring the U.S.’s promises to Indian nations and helping communities gain access to clean, safe water supplies,” Secretary Salazar said. “This settlement honorably closes a long chapter of litigation and will bring real benefits to the Navajo people and surrounding communities.”
The San Juan Navajo Water Rights Settlement is aimed at resolving more than 20 years of efforts to adjudicate the Navajo Nation’s water right owners, it would protect existing uses of water, it would allow for future growth, and it would do so within the amount of water apportioned to New Mexico by the Colorado River Compacts.
Salazar spoke at length this morning on the importance of collaboration and cooperation among Colorado River water users. He said such cooperation will be even more important as the river basin enters its second decade of drought.
As I speak to you today, the Colorado River is facing a record drought. The period between 2000 to 2010 has been the driest 11-year period in the 102-year historical record for the Colorado River Basin. Moreover, scientists who examined tree-ring data estimate that this period is one of the driest in the Basin in over 1,000 years.
And there are no clear signs of an end to this drought. The countless communities that rely on the river to sustain them are being forced to make tough choices at a time with few obvious solutions in sight.
Moreover, as we enter our second decade of drought conditions, another reality complicates the picture: climate change and its emerging challenges—challenges that we are only just beginning to understand– may dwarf in complexity the issues that the Basin States have faced so far. Some estimates have identified a risk of a 20-30 percent decline in available water supplies in this Basin due to climate change.