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Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe Revive Little Colorado River Settlement Talks

The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe have been at odds for almost four decades about water rights to the Little Colorado River. Leaders of the tribes recently met with Arizona officials to revive attempts at a settlement. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The two tribes pledged cooperation to reach an agreement, and say guaranteed access to water from the LCR is key to their futures. The Navajo and Hopi tribes each claim priority water rights to the river, and have fought in court since the late-1970s. 

Credit Navajo Nation
State officials and tribal leaders met to discuss Little Colorado River water rights: (from left) Sen. Jeff Flake, Gov. Doug Ducey, Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie, Sen. John McCain, and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

Navajo Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates says the settlement is a top priority of the tribe’s lawmakers.

“It would provide the needed water. We’re a growing nation and as we grow as we develop ourselves there will always be that need for water, more and more water,” Bates says.

Credit Navajo Nation
Tribal leaders meet to discuss Little Colorado River water rights.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake also met with tribal leaders. Federal legislation will be required to finalize any settlement, and the senators said they’ll introduce a bill if an agreement is reached. Bates says the tribes intend to resolve the dispute before President Obama leaves office next year.

The 340-mile-long LCR is one of largest tributaries of the Colorado River. There are nearly 2,000 claims to the LCR’s water, including the cities of Flagstaff, Winslow and Holbrook, the federal government, as well as farmers and ranchers.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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