Hopi lawmakers to vote on water settlement -- again

Jun 20, 2012

Another contentious meeting over water is planned on the Hopi Reservation Thursday.

The Little Colorado River settlement was supposed to settle claims by the Hopi and Navajo over the muddy tributary that both tribes historically used. 

Instead it has caused a schism on both reservations that is near a boiling point.

Part of the opposition is because Arizona’s U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl introduced the water settlement in the Senate before lawmakers in either tribe had presented it to their people or voted on it.

Kyl says getting the legislation in the Congressional queue was important because he’s retiring in January.

“I told the parties that one thing I could do to move the process forward would be to go ahead and introduce the legislation that conforms to the settlement and then not move the legislation until all the parties had approved it,” Kyl says.

But in his Senate bill, Kyl added provisions that, opponents say, benefit the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Page.

Electricity from the plant pumps water for the Central Arizona Project and is key to cheap water in Phoenix and Tucson.

Kyl’s bid to extend the plant’s lease another 25 years has raised eyebrows on both reservations.

That’s one reason Hopi lawmakers voted 11-4 to oppose Kyl’s bill last week.

The resolution adopted last week stipulates that any future water settlement must be voted on by the Hopi people.

But Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa says negotiations should continue.

He points out that the Senate bill includes $350 million in funding for water pipelines on the Hopi and Navajo nations.  

We have to find another source to bring water here,” he says. “If we don’t do that, we could be our own worst enemies for survival.”

Now Hopi lawmakers are planning another vote Thursday on whether they support the water settlement.  

Former Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa says a majority of Hopi villages oppose Kyl’s bill, so any other action on the water settlement is unnecessary.

“The villages, the ones with the power, have spoken,” he says.

Without the blessing of all water users in the settlement – including the Hopi -- Kyl’s bill could be dead.

CORRECTION: The original story reported that Kyl's bill provides for a lease extension at Navajo Generating Station for 40 years. Senate Bill 2109 includes a provision that would grant a portion of Colorado River water to the Navajo Nation if the tribe renews its lease with NGS for 25 more years from the lease's expiration date in 2019.