In 1882, an executive order from President Chester A. Arthur established the Hopi Reservation. The reservation is in northeastern Arizona, in Coconino and Navajo Counties, and consists of over 1.5 million acres.
In 2012, a settlement agreement pertaining to Little Colorado River rights was proposed and initially accepted by the Hopi. The Act, put forth by Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl, “would require the tribes to waive their water rights for ‘time immemorial’ in exchange for groundwater delivery projects.” The Act would have settled the unsettled claims between the Navajo and Hopi regarding the Little Colorado River. In December of 2012, the Hopi retracted their support for the Act. The Tribe also has contracted for water rights in Contract No. 04-XXX-30-W0432.
The Hopi are entitled to divert 6,028 afa per Contract No. 04-XXX-30-W0432.
Source of Water
The Colorado River in Cibola, Arizona, is the diversion point for the contracted rights. Additionally, natural springs and aquifers provide drinking water to the Hopi Reservation, although the quality and quantity of the water from these sources is diminishing to the extent that the water from some sources is unfit for consumption. Several Hopi residences on the reservation have no immediate water source and are forced to rely on “village pumps or water houses.”
The Hopi Tribe uses water for religious ceremonies, agriculture, and domestic uses. The Act would have prohibited marketing of Hopi water rights off-reservation. The Tribe receives royalties for water leased to the Peabody Coal Company for mining activities on Black Mesa.
Interview with Lionel Puhuyesva, Director of the Hopi Water Resources Program (November 11, 2012)
Lionel Puhuyesva is the director of the Hopi Tribe’s Water Resources Program. Mr. Puhuyesva explains that, until recently, the Tribe was entirely dependent upon precipitation for their traditional dry-farming. After nearly twenty years of drought, farmers are using well water for crops. The Tribe relies on groundwater resources for ceremonial use and domestic drinking water and is reliant on the N aquifer.
Ideally, the Tribe could access Colorado River water to supplement their groundwater resources. Mr. Puhuyesva explains that the Tribe’s biggest challenge has been dealing with the Navajo Nation. As an entirely “landlocked” nation, the Tribe has struggled to work with the Navajo Nation. Both tribes draw on the N aquifer but the Hopi Tribe relies on the aquifer almost exclusively. There are serious concerns about the drawdown of this aquifer.
Protecting water quality as well as quantity is a primary concern for Hopi Water Resources. “Our main goal is just to get water here, to find another source of water. We need surety. Our recharge is uncertain and dependent on the Navajo Nation- we need another source of water.” Arsenic contamination is another challenge. “Because of this reliance”, Puhuyesva explains, “protection of groundwater is our primary concern. That is why we created an ordinance to enforce our water code. We needed to have a way to address the contamination.”
In addition to maintaining the Tribe’s water resources for consumptive uses, the Tribe relies on water resources for non-consumptive religious and cultural uses. Puhuyesva explains that “Many of the springs out here are culturally significant. People tend to want to protect certain springs and sites. Certain areas are tied to cultural traditions. We want to protect certain animals, plants, and wildlife.”
In terms of developing water resources for the future, “Our overall goal is primacy. Having more control over our water.” The Tribe is mainly concerned about developing a domestic means to deliver surface waters to households. Part of this plan involves obtaining a right of way for the pipeline to carry water across the Navajo Nation to the Hopi Reservation.
In addition to domestic supply, the Tribe “would like to find some way to use our water for agriculture.” Puhuyesva explains that “Farming has been a staple of our culture. But because of the prolonged drought, the people have not been able to farm as they once have. Just because our tribe hasn’t been known for irrigation doesn’t mean that it can’t be.”