The (San Juan) basin, in northwestern New Mexico, has every competing water interest you’d want in the mix if you were creating a recipe for conflict: Native American water rights (the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache nations), endangered species (the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker), farming large and small, city water use and a couple of big coal-fired power plants. Also, not one but two interstate water compacts lurk in the background.
As Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River dropped, the risk of conflict was enormous.
“We were looking into an abyss,” Leeper said.
But rather than fire up the lawyers and prepare to fight over the dwindling supplies, the basin’s water users began talking. When 2003 started looking every bit as dismal, they had a negotiated agreement in place to share the shortages.