From this morning’s newspaper, a deep dive into the issues surrounding the Navajo Nation’s struggle to secure water rights in northwestern New Mexico:
It was 1948.
Fred Wilson, New Mexico’s representative to the interstate group working to divide up the waters of the Upper Colorado River Basin, was pleading.
“The state of New Mexico wants the Indians to be protected,” Wilson told the other commissioners at the gathering in Vernal, Utah. The federal government’s Office of Indian Affairs had estimated that future water needs for Navajo Nation lands within the state of New Mexico would be substantial. But no deal that did not set aside enough water for both Indian and non-Indian water users could win political approval in New Mexico, Wilson told the other negotiators.
Water for the possible completion of the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, first promised by Congress in 1962, but never finished by the federal government, is at the heart of a battle playing out in San Juan County court. (Journal file)
Wilson got his way. The final Upper Colorado River Basin Compact gave New Mexico a large share of water compared with the state’s contributions to the big river’s flow.
“New Mexico was allotted a share of water sufficiently large to take care of every water use currently planned for the Indians by the Office of Indian Affairs,” wrote Clifford Stone, the state of Colorado’s representative to the commission.
But while the 1948 compact gave New Mexico a big lump sum of water, it was left to the state and Navajo Nation to work out the details.
Sixty-five years later, the Navajo Nation is back in court, defending its claim to the water with the backing of the state of New Mexico and the federal government.