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Red Gap Water
A fire hydrant seems out of place at Red Gap Ranch. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

The city of Flagstaff has a tentative agreement with the Navajo Nation to allow it to pump up to 7 million gallons of water a day out of the C-Aquifer beneath Red Gap Ranch east of the city.

The agreement, reached after months of legal negotiations, will settle all outstanding legal claims between the city and the Navajo Nation.

This agreement still needs the approval of the Flagstaff City Council and the Navajo Nation's attorney general.

When signed, it will allow the city to begin drilling six separate water wells in a few weeks at the 8,500-acre ranch 35 miles east of Flagstaff, City Manager Kevin Burke confirmed Friday.

Although the wells would be drilled, the city is at least a decade away from needing the water. The city uses between 7 million and 13 million gallons of potable water a day, depending on the season. Supplies come from deep wells in and near the city and from Upper Lake Mary.

City taxpayers have covered the drilling costs, but a pipeline to get the water to Flagstaff could cost up to $200 million and is still unfunded.

ALL LEGAL CLAIMS DROPPED

As part of the still unsigned agreement, the Navajo Nation has stated it will not file any legal claims related to the city drilling, pumping or delivering water to Flagstaff from Red Gap Ranch, which borders the Navajo Nation.

In February, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly had threatened to seek an injunction against the city in an attempt to block the city's plans to begin drilling under a state-approved permit.

The agreement is expected to allow the city of Flagstaff to pump roughly 8,000 acre-feet of water a year, said Burke. An acre-foot is estimated to support two families of four people each for one year.

The city initially had wanted to pump as much as 12,000 acre-feet of water a year, according to city officials.

The current agreement would secure enough extra water to cover the city's needs for an estimated 80 years, given historic growth levels, existing supplies and current water restrictions.

2 MILES SOUTH OF BOUNDARY

The agreement will limit the city's pumping on Red Gap Ranch accordingly:

1) no new wells greater than 35 gallons per minute will be established within 2 miles of the reservation boundary;

2) a maximum of 8,000 acre-feet of water per year shall be allowed to be pumped between 2 miles and 6 miles south of the reservation boundary;

3) the number of wells and pumping beyond 6 miles south of the reservation is unrestricted for municipal use.

In exchange for these limitations, the Navajo Nation will not object to Flagstaff's drilling, pumping, well locations or uses, or any pipeline right-of-way necessary to transport the water to Flagstaff.

PIPELINE SEPARATE

Separate from the agreement would be the route the pipeline would take.

Navajo and Hopi governments own land between Red Gap Ranch and Flagstaff, where a pipeline would be located.

The area also includes lands on the national forest and a number of archaeological sites.

One possible route would align the pipeline along Interstate 40, but the city would still need approval from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

City voters in 2004 approved the sale of $15 million in municipal bonds in order to acquire and/or develop property or water rights.

The city council used part of that money to purchase Red Gap Ranch in 2005.

MULTI-PARTY TALKS

The Navajo Nation and the city of Flagstaff also are part of multi-party Colorado Plateau water talks that could result in the Navajo Nation supplying water to area cities and towns out of its proposed allotment from the Colorado River without tapping area aquifers.

One proposal has the Navajo Nation being awarded $800 million to help fund a pipeline system if it agrees to a lower allotment. U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl recently expressed doubts that Congress would approve that large a grant and suggested new terms would need to be negotiated.

Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or jferguson@azdailysun.com.

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