Q. What is the background of the Little Colorado River litigation?
A. In 1978, the Phelps Dodge Corporation petitioned the State of Arizona to determine the rights of all water users in the Little Colorado River (LCR) Basin. That matter was transferred to the Apache County Superior Court in 1979 and designated as In re: The General Adjudication of all Right to use of water in the Little Colorado River System and Source, Superior Ct. No. 6417, Apache County, Arizona.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed water rights claims for the historic and reserved water rights to the surface and ground water in the LCR basin. These claims included the rights of the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and the Zuni Tribe. Each of the Tribes also filed claims on their behalf. In addition, claims were filed on behalf of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.
Approximately 11,000 total claims have been filed in this adjudication on behalf of some 3,000 claimants. The major non-Indian parties include the State of Arizona, the Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power, Phelps-Dodge Mining, Stone Container Corporation, several municipalities, ranches, and irrigation companies.
In addition, the Hopi Tribe has purchased land within the LCR basin as provided for in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Settlement Act of 1996. The nature of the water rights for these lands is set forth in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Settlement Act of 1996.
Q. Why are the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation involved in the litigation?
A. The Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation are parties to the Little Colorado River water rights litigation, entitled, In re: The General Adjudication of all Right to use of water in the Little Colorado River System and Source. (Nos. 6417-033-9055 and 6417-033-9066, Consolidated. Arizona Superior Court) All of the Hopi Reservation and much of the western part of the Navajo Reservation are located in the Little Colorado River (LCR) basin. Federal court decisions have determined that state courts are the proper forum for the adjudication of all Federal reserved water rights , including Indian water rights. The Court has not yet decided whether ground water will be subject to the adjudication. Because this adjudication will establish the amount and priority for all water users within the LCR basin, it is very important that the tribes work vigorously in the litigation and associated settlement negotiations to assure adequate future water supplies for their respective reservation homelands.
One of the Hopi Tribe's main concerns is preserving the N aquifer, which is its most important water source and its only source of drinking water. The aquifer is also of great spiritual significance. The Hopi Tribe has supported a pipeline from the mainstem Colorado River to offset Peabody water needs for the coal slurry pipeline.
The Navajo Nation is also concerned with protecting its water resources in the Little Colorado River Basin, including the N aquifer. The N aquifer provides the only reliable source of drinking water for several Navajo communities, including the communities of Tuba City, Kayenta, and Pinon. The Navajo Nation has participated in numerous investigations of the N aquifer and actively monitors the coal slurry pipeline to ensure that there are no significant adverse impacts on the local residents and communities.
Peabody Western Coal Company (Peabody) is a party to the water rights litigation and is the largest single user of N-aquifer water (approximately 4,000 acre-feet annually), mostly for the coal slurry pipeline.