Several states that depend on the Colorado River for their water supply are asking the US Supreme Court to block a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation. The lawsuit claims that the federal government has failed in its promise to provide a sufficient water supply to the tribe, leading to a lack of running water in around one-third of homes on Navajo land. Meanwhile, the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada argue that giving the Navajo Nation more water will mean scarce supplies are cut further. The case is complicated by the fact that the Colorado River is overburdened and claims against its water are being raised by tribes across the US. The Navajo Nation has achieved settlements with Utah and New Mexico, but has yet to reach an agreement for water rights from the Colorado River in the lower basin, nor for water from a tributary, the Little Colorado River.
The Navajo Nation’s case relies on two treaties signed in the 19th century, which it claims guarantee it enough water to sustain its home. However, the federal government denies this, saying it has helped the tribe obtain water from tributaries, but that no law or treaty requires it to meet the tribe’s water needs. A victory for the Navajo Nation would not immediately result in an increase in water to Navajo communities as the case would still need to be heard in Lower Federal Court. Furthermore, it could open the door for similar claims by other Native American tribes. Although the Navajo Nation could impose conservation on others due to its priority water rights in the Colorado River, many Navajo people may not live to see running water in their homes.