New Mexico Lawmakers Challenge Navajo Water Compact

Jun 15, 2018

Republican New Mexico lawmakers challenged an agreement awarding water rights from the San Juan River to the Navajo Nation, asking the state Supreme Court on Friday to suspend the compact because the Legislature never approved it.

The San Juan River
Credit Steve Collins/

The protest was filed against New Mexico's Interstate Stream Commission and state engineer by 10 legislators from districts stretching from the northwest of the state to Albuquerque. The lawmakers assert that former Gov. Bill Richardson signed off on the water agreement without giving the Legislature a say in the matter, and that lawmakers should still be given the opportunity to enact, reject or modify the pact.

The Legislature "might pass a water compact with different terms, which would serve as a counter-offer to the Navajo Nation and the United States," the lawmakers wrote, petitioning the Supreme Court to intervene.

Congress approved the Navajo water rights settlement in 2009, but final approval from the state did not come until 2013. Water districts in New Mexico's San Juan River basin have unsuccessfully opposed it, arguing the resources are not needed for a troubled Navajo irrigation system.

Stanley Pollack, an attorney for the Navajo Nation, said the water settlement does not need approval from the Legislature, unlike interstate water compacts cited in Friday's filing.

"It's exactly the same process that's done in every other water case," he said. "You reach a consent agreement with the state, then you open it up for objections by all the other water users. That's exactly what we did here."

He noted that challenges already have been resolved at the appellate court level.

"How many different times are they going to raise the same issue and get the same result?" he said Friday. "They've been denied now, I don't know how many times. I've lost track."