SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah — Three leaders made history Friday morning in southeastern Utah.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed an agreement 20 years in the making.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney pushed the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement Act through. It formalizes long-promised water for the Navajo in Utah.
“The challenge was you had half of the Utah residents of the Navajo Nation without running water in their homes,” Romney said.
That's about 2,500 people who have to travel as far as 50 miles to fill containers of water. Twenty years of negotiations hinged on the balance between the right to scarce water from the San Juan River and the resources to actually get it to the people who need it.
“So we agreed: 'OK, here's how we're going to split the water rights. And here's how we're going to get water to the homes of the Navajo citizens,'" Romney said. "That cost $220 million."
$210 million of the funding comes from President Joe Biden's Infrastructure Bill and $8 million from the State of Utah.
In a written statement, Secretary Haaland said: “Having modern water infrastructure is not only crucial to the health of our kids and families – it's also important to economic opportunity, job creation and responding to the intensifying effects of climate change.”