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San Juan Panel Drops Water Deal Opposition

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The board of the San Juan Basin’s largest municipal water agency voted Wednesday to drop its opposition to a 2005 agreement settling the New Mexico water rights claims of the Navajo Nation.

The action by the San Juan Water Commission board removes one of the major obstacles to the Navajo water rights agreement, which is now before the 11th Judicial District Court in San Juan County for confirmation. The commission was one of a handful of parties that had filed formal objections to the Navajo water rights settlement with the court.

The commission was established in 1986 as a regional government agency to act as a go-between, providing water to city water agencies in the county from the federal Animas-La Plata water supply project. Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and the San Juan County Rural Water Users Association all get water from the commission.

The 2005 agreement to settle the Navajo Nation’s water rights in New Mexico has been controversial.

Under federal law, the Navajos’ water rights to irrigate farmland and provide for community water supplies could be substantial. Because of fears that could mean a loss of water for non-Indian users, state officials cut a deal in 2005 that gives the Navajo Nation less water than a federal study says the nation might be entitled to, but more water than some San Juan County residents think the nation should get.

Currently, the Navajo Nation consumes slightly less than 10 percent of the San Juan River’s flow, according to state and federal data. The agreement would increase that number to about 16 percent.

The commission’s board has been careful to neither formally support nor oppose the overall Navajo settlement, explained Randy Kirkpatrick, the commission’s executive director.

But it did file an objection to the Navajo deal in state court because of a dispute over water from the Animas and La Plata rivers.

The agreement ensures the commission will get the water it was claiming, amounting to about 10,000 acre feet, or enough for some 20,000 homes.

That was sufficient to convince the board that it should drop its formal opposition to the Navajo water rights deal, Kirkpatrick said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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