[Marxism] Navajo water claims

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 23 11:59:24 MDT 2004

NY Times, July 23, 2004
How Drought Just Might Bring Water to the Navajo

WHITE ROCK, N.M. - Once a week, Bennie Yazzie drives half an hour over 
the bone-rattling dirt roads of the Navajo Nation to get drinking water. 
It sloshes out a long blue hose at a cost of 3 cents a gallon - except 
when it doesn't. A few weeks back, the coin-fed meter was broken and no 
one at the little oasis of White Rock knew how to fix it.

"Another 35 miles on bad road," Mr. Yazzie said of his journey to the 
next-nearest pump.

The Navajo struggle for water on these unforgiving lands long predates 
the drought that has settled over the West in the last five years. On a 
reservation nearly five times the size of Connecticut, more than a third 
of the residents have no running water for themselves, their gardens or 
their livestock. So they go to water stations like White Rock, 50 miles 
from the nearest real town, to shower, wash clothes or socialize, making 
the best of a situation that would make most Americans shudder with its 
matter-of-fact adversities.

But in an odd and deeply paradoxical way, the drought itself - and the 
fundamental ways it is making many Westerners rethink the future - may 
finally bring running water to the Navajo. The tribal council could vote 
at any time on a settlement to end a 30-year legal standoff with New 
Mexico over how to divide the waters of the San Juan River, a major 
tributary of the Colorado River. Tribal leaders had contended that 
history and treaty entitled them to the entire flow of the river; the 
state said the tribe was overreaching.

A preliminary agreement reached late last year - one of the largest 
Native American water deals in history, gallon for gallon - reduces the 
tribe's claims and in return provides for a $600 million federal 
pipeline that would snake south through the reservation, with feeder 
systems reaching into the communities, called chapters here. The pipe 
would also take water to the equally thirsty city of Gallup, N.M., just 
outside the reservation's southeast border.


But the real heart of the deal is not hydrology but human nature.

To get backing for the pipeline plan, for example, the Navajo 
negotiators compromised many of the tribe's old claims, which date back 
to 1849 and earlier. Under the agreement, the tribe would get only 55 
percent of the water available for use in the San Juan - though even 
that amount is immense, more water than is allotted to the entire state 
of Nevada from the Colorado River. In return, the tribe would get the 
pipeline and other benefits, including a timetable for completion of a 
big federal irrigation project that was authorized by Congress in 1962.

Some holdouts on the Navajo Council say they are not sure the tribe's 
long-term interests are being served.

"There's nothing wrong with asking for the entire river," said Irvin M. 
Keeswood, who represents the Hogback chapter near Farmington. Most 
Hogback households already have running water. Mr. Keeswood said he was 
undecided about his vote. "This is a one-time shot for us, so it has to 
be the best we can get," he said.


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