Bingaman Opening Statement on S. 1171, The Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act

June 29, 2007
11:51 AM
              Good afternoon.  It’s my pleasure to welcome everyone to this afternoon’s hearing.  We have a large contingent of folks from New Mexico and Arizona who have traveled across the country to be with us today.  We appreciate your efforts in being here this afternoon.  
           The purpose of the hearing is to receive testimony on S. 1171, a bill I am sponsoring with Senator Domenici, which authorizes a settlement of the Navajo Nation’s water rights claims in the San Juan River basin in New Mexico.  Key features of the legislation include amendments to the law of the Colorado River; an authorization to construct the Navajo-Gallup Rural Water Project; and an authorization to use the Reclamation Fund to ensure that this Settlement, as well as other similar matters, can be fully implemented.
            A settlement as complex as this one, has lots of moving parts.  A number of the most critical ones have been delayed for years, such as the Environmental Impact Statement for the Navajo-Gallup Project.  Secretary Kempthorne and his staff have worked hard to get the process moving again and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their hard work, and express my appreciation for their efforts.  Unfortunately, as the Administration’s testimony makes clear, the Federal government does not have a consistent view on these matters.  Over the last four years, the Federal government has committed almost $2.5 billion to settle water rights claims in other parts of the West, and has spent $1.6 billion to address water issues in developing countries.  We’ve even spent $2.3 billion on water infrastructure and management in Iraq.  But now, the Administration is strongly opposing S. 1171 due to its cost, which is less than $1 billion, to be expended over 15-20 years.  We’ll have more on that later. 
            The basis for the legislation is an April 2005 settlement agreement between the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation declaring the extent of the Nation’s water rights in the San Juan basin.  The Agreement was long in the making but now appears to have wide base of support.  Once again, it’s clear that negotiated settlements are much more productive than endless litigation. 
            As is evident from today’s testimony, though, there is work left to be done.  This bill involves a number of big issues.  First, it implicates the Colorado River.  Accordingly, as with everything involving the Colorado River, there are a number of folks trying to ensure the bill does not undermine their interests, and others viewing this as an opportunity to further issues best left to other contexts.  The hearing also involves the Federal government’s dealings and responsibilities towards Native Americans --- a relationship the U.S. Supreme Court once characterized as “moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust.”  Unfortunately, the Administration will be adding another sorry chapter to that ongoing story. 
            At the heart of today’s hearing, and hopefully not lost in the discussion, are people.  For too long, a large percentage of Navajo people have gone without readily accessible drinking water supplies, a convenience that so many other Americans take for granted.  I hope we can do that issue some justice today, and have a productive hearing that will address their needs, and bring about a settlement that will benefit all of New Mexico.

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