Navajo, Gallup leaders sign water agreement

St. Michaels, Arizona (AP) 11-07

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and Gallup Mayor Harry Mendoza have signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for them to work together to see that a pair of pipelines are built to provide their people with water from the San Juan River.

Shirley, Mendoza and members of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission said the agreement is an example of cooperation.

“The signing of this memorandum of understanding today is by far a historical step of the Navajo Nation, McKinley County and the city of Gallup working together to bring water to the region,” Mendoza said during a signing ceremony.

Shirley said he appreciated the work done by Navajo and Gallup officials to make the memorandum possible since many tribal members on the eastern side of the Navajo reservation have waited decades for running water in their homes.

Legislation pending in Congress would enact a proposed settlement between the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over water rights on the San Juan.

The settlement would authorize the pipeline project and create a water rights settlement fund in the federal treasury to pay for them and future American Indian water agreements.

The Bush administration has said it opposes the settlement, which would cost the federal government $1 billion over 15 to 20 years.

“I have every confidence that we’re going to legislate that San Juan River water settlement and have put in there upwards of $800 million,” Shirley said “That having been done, it’s water for Gallup, water for the Navajo people, my people in the eastern portion of Navajoland.”

Lena Fowler, vice chair of the commission, said it has been a long journey and some people did not believe the Navajos and the nearby city of Gallup could work together.

“There are people that believe that it cannot be done, that Indian nations cannot work with non-Indian municipalities,” she said. “There are people that are completely opposed to our journey to bring reliable safe water to our people, but that’s the journey that we’re on, and we will succeed and we are succeeding.”