On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a decision that the Navajo Nation should not get water from the Colorado River because of the ongoing drought.
Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, three states that take water from the river, as well as water agencies in California that are also interested in the lawsuit, had urged the court to make the decision for them, and the justices agreed in a 5-4 decision. Colorado had contended that supporting the Navajo Nation would jeopardise current accords and interfere with river management.
The Biden administration had warned that the federal government might be sued by numerous other tribes if the court ruled in the Navajo Nation’s favour.
The Navajo Nation’s attorneys had described the tribe’s request as modest, stating that all that was needed was an evaluation of the tribe’s water requirements and a strategy for meeting them.
The case’s facts can be traced back to the 1849 and 1868 treaties that the tribe and the federal government signed. In the second treaty, the tribe was promised a “permanent home” on the reservation, which according to the Navajo Nation also includes access to enough water. The Navajo Nation’s water rights to the lower Colorado River were not taken into account or adequately protected, the tribe claimed in a 2003 lawsuit against the federal government.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for a majority of conservative justices, stating that “the Navajos contend that the treaty requires the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Navajos — for example, by assessing the Tribe’s water needs, developing a plan to secure the needed water, and potentially building pipelines, pumps, wells, or other water infrastructure.”
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