Navajo Nation Loses Water Rights Claim in Colorado River Case

The Supreme Court has ruled against the Navajo Nation in a case involving water from the drought-stricken Colorado River.

In a 5-4 ruling, the justices favored the states of Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado in the water rights dispute with the Navajo Nation.

Colorado argued that siding with the Navajo Nation would undermine existing agreements and disrupt the river's management.

The Navajo Nation had requested an assessment of their water needs and a plan to meet them, characterizing their request as modest.

The tribe and the government signed treaties in 1849 and 1868, establishing the reservation as the tribe's "permanent home," which the Navajo Nation says includes a sufficient supply of water.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained that the treaty does not require the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Navajos.

In a dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch characterized the Navajo’s position as a “simple ask” and would have allowed the case to go forward.

The decision reverses the appeals court’s ruling, allowing the states involved to continue drawing water from the Colorado River.

The Navajo Nation's reservation covers parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona, with one-third of the 175,000 people living on the reservation lacking running water in their homes.

Allocating water in the arid regions is a zero-sum situation, with courts leaving the responsibility to enact appropriations laws and update federal law to Congress and the President.

The decision could have far-reaching implications, potentially setting a precedent for future water rights claims by other Native American tribes.

The Navajo Nation's fight for water rights is just one example of how Indigenous communities are fighting for their right to a clean and safe environment.