Two months without a right to water: historic SCOTUS decision and the Navajo Nation

August 15, 2023 - Savannah Peat - UNM Newsroom

The word ‘crisis’ is hardly an exaggeration when you look at the state of climate and drought in the Southwest. It’s even less of one, when you’re evaluating water supply in New Mexico. Crisis is, unfortunately, the most accurate possible descriptor when you’re looking at these situations on the Navajo Nation.  

For decades, communities in the Navajo Nation have battled for clean water, or simply basic water infrastructure. This need has grown exponentially in recent years, and sadly, will not be alleviated any time soon, due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, in Arizona v. Navajo Nation.  

“With a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the 1868 Navajo Treaty did not include an affirmative duty for the federal government to determine the Navajo Nation’s water needs and devise a plan to secure the necessary water," UNM School of Law Assistant Professor Nadine Padilla said.

An estimated 15% of families on the Navajo Nation still do not have piped, safe drinking water. 30% do not have running water. When that’s the case, community members must travel miles to a possibly safe well, to supply for their families and livestock.