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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


S. 2109. A bill to approve the settlement of water rights claims of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the allottees of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in the State of Arizona, to authorize construction of municipal water projects relating to the water rights claims, to resolve litigation against the United States concerning Colorado River operations affecting the States of California, Arizona, and Nevada, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, on behalf of Senator McCain and myself, I am pleased to introduce the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012. This is S. 2109.

It is propitious as the State of Arizona today celebrates its centennial--its 100th birthday--that we also have the opportunity to resolve significant water rights issues for the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and water users throughout the Southwest. Indeed, the legal arguments for the claims being settled predate Arizona's induction into the Union. It is also worth noting that for more than two decades--more than 20 percent of Arizona's statehood time--hundreds of individuals in Arizona and here in Washington have worked hard to settle all these claims.

The protracted, and at times contentious, negotiations are a reflection of water's fundamental importance as well as the care and attention communities in the Southwest have given to managing this very limited resource. For many on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, however, management of the resource is nothing more than a mirage.

It shocks the conscience in this day and age that many on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations only have access to the amount of water they can haul--in some instances literally by horse and wagon--to the remote reaches of the reservations. While this picture of conditions near Dilkon on the Navajo Reservation could be confused as a depiction of conditions at the time Arizona became a State in 1912, it was taken in just August of last year.

We can see that it depicts, as in many other areas of the reservation, that between one-third and one-half of the households lack complete plumbing facilities, with many families being forced to haul water significant distances. That is what we see depicted in this photograph. This has become a way of life on the reservation--a full-time job that limits economic opportunities and perpetuates a cycle of poverty. What is more, this lack of clean, readily available drinking water significantly impacts the health and safety of the Navajo and Hopi people. There are higher rates of disease and infant mortality and a lack of sufficient water supplies to meet fire-suppression needs. It is inconceivable in 2012 that Navajo and Hopi families are still living in these conditions.

Legally, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe may assert claims to larger quantities of water, but, as seen here, they do not have the means to make use of those supplies in a safe and productive manner. Among water law practitioners, the tribes may be said to have ``paper'' water, as opposed to ``wet'' water. Those claims are far-reaching, extending beyond the mesas and plateaus of northern Arizona and calling into question water uses even in California and Nevada.

The legislation we introduce today, however, would resolve many of those issues. In exchange for legal waivers, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe would receive critical drinking water infrastructure. The three groundwater projects contemplated by this act would deliver much needed drinking water supplies to the impoverished areas of the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.

It is also important to note that this settlement would facilitate water deliveries to the eastern part of the Navajo reservation through the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, a project that has not only been approved by Congress but was one of 14 projects chosen by the President in October for expedited environmental review and permitting. Although that expedited project may deliver 6,411 acre-feet of water to Navajo communities in Arizona, such deliveries cannot occur until the Navajo claims in Arizona have been resolved. This settlement accomplishes that goal, reallocating water for delivery through the Navajo-Gallup pipeline.

Importantly, this settlement would not only inure to the benefit of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, but it would also provide immeasurable benefits to non-Indian communities throughout Arizona, California, and Nevada. Without a settlement, resolution of the tribes' claims would take years, require parties to expend significant sums, create continued uncertainty concerning water supplies, and seriously impair the economic well-being of all of the parties to the settlement.

For example, municipalities, farmers, ranchers, and industrial water users in northern Arizona would be able to better plan for their water future without the uncertainty and expense of continuing costly litigation against the tribes. Likewise, water users from the Imperial Valley of California to the Las Vegas Strip would be able to take comfort in the knowledge that lower Colorado River water-management regulations that they spent years developing would no longer be subject to challenge by the Navajo Nation.

In addition to resolving the tribes' claims to the Little Colorado River, this settlement sets the table for future negotiations regarding the lower Colorado River. The settlement, among other things, reserves water for future negotiation of those claims. In doing so, this bill acknowledges the importance of those settlement negotiations to the tribes and the non-Indian communities throughout the Southwest.

I have had the privilege to work on a number of water settlements throughout my career. Each has been rewarding and served to meet significant needs for both the American Indian and non-Indian communities involved. In that same regard, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the many parties who have negotiated this settlement, and I am committed to bringing it to fruition through congressional enactment.

I believe this bill represents the best opportunity for all of the parties and for the American taxpayer to achieve a fair result. The settlement resolves significant legal claims, limits legal exposure, avoids protracted litigation costs, and, most important, saves lives. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

As we move forward with the request for hearings that we will need to hold and hopefully, after that, bringing this legislation, after properly marking it up, to the floor of the Senate, Senator McCain and I will have much more to say about how the settlement came about, what its importance is to the people of Arizona, describing the legal consequences of it, and what it means to the future of my State.

I am particularly pleased that all of the parties in Arizona--literally hundreds of people came together to reach an agreement that we could then embody in legislation that I could introduce on the day of Arizona's birthday, its centennial, its 100th birthday, as another important event in the history of our State. I think it would be a fitting birthday present to the people of the State Arizona if our colleagues will help us in ensuring that this legislation can be adopted in this centennial year.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record,


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