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Tribal leaders push for more involvement in federal water policymaking

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and leaders of 20 tribes met Mon, March 28, 2022 in Albuquerque, N.M., to discuss expanded tribal involvement in long-term management of the Colorado River Basin.

Several tribal leaders met with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland this week to advocate for their involvement in federal water policymaking. They want full participation in water allocation decisions in a time of increased scarcity.

Monday’s meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., focused on long-term management of the Colorado River Basin. Leaders of the Navajo Nation and 19 other tribes want assurances that Indigenous communities in the West will have universal access to clean drinking water as part of the government’s federal trust responsibility.

Tribal leaders pressed Haaland to include them in future decision-making and, according to Navajo President Jonathan Nez’s office, she committed to more government-to-government consultation with tribes over water policy.

“The Navajo Nation has a dire need for access to clean water ... Proposed operations of the Colorado River Basin can directly impact water sustainability for Navajo communities," said Nez in a press release. "The Navajo Nation needs to be included as a full participant in all discussions that affect the Navajo Nation’s water."

Nez says tribes have historically been excluded from federal and state water management decisions. About 30% of Navajo residents lack running water.

It comes as the region’s reservoirs have hit record-low levels amid a prolonged drought. Water advocates say overuse and poor management threaten the Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people in the West.

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.