[OP-ED] An endless tribal water fight

Navajos, Hopis opted to let a long-sought settlement slip away

By Senators John McCain and John Kyle

The Arizona Republic

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.”

That aphorism, long popular among Western water folks, was the prevailing sentiment in the Southwest for the past century. From the riverbank to Congress to the courts, water users fought for water rights.

But victories were not always satisfying. The best one could hope for was a paper decree quantifying water rights. Especially for Indian tribes, what they really needed was not “paper” water but actual “wet” water.

As a result, parties began to negotiate settlements that not only resolved water claims but also included congressionally authorized funding for Indian water projects, upheld federal trust responsibilities and created certainty for non-Indian communities. Even when all the parties are working together, actually achieving a water settlement — particularly coming up with the funding — is usually very hard to do. We saw that recently with the failure of the settlement that included the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

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