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U.S. Senate passes plan to deliver drinking water to Utah Navajos

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Flags drape the west side of the U.S. Capitol building as groups rehearse for Friday’s inauguration.

Marc Giauque, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah members of the Navajo Nation, one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, would no longer have to haul water to their homes under a bill the U.S. Senate passed this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and two Arizona senators, the legislation would end decades of conflict among the Navajo Nation, the federal government and Utah over water rights.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the Navajo Nation in our state, and the shortage of running water in nearly half of homes is contributing to the spread, “ Romney said.

The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act would provide access to water and wastewater facilities for the Navajo Nation as well as a water delivery system.

The bill would provide the Navajo Nation with the right to 81,500 acre-feet of water a year from Utah’s Colorado River Basin apportionment. It would allocate $210 million for water projects to help provide clean drinking water to tribal members. Utah would contribute $8 million toward the settlement, which the state has already approved.

The Navajo Nation welcomed passage of the bill as it continues to struggle to address COVID-19, said President Jonathan Nez.

“Providing clean water for the Navajo people is a challenging task and we have worked with our friends in Congress and across the country to move this important measure forward,” he said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced a House version of the bill in January 2019. GOP Reps. John Curtis and Chris Stewart and Democrat Ben McAdams signed on as co-sponsors.