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Documentary focuses on Navajo water rights on PBS

Documentary focuses on Navajo water rights on PBS

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COYOTE CANYON, N.M. (AP) — Mark Tsosie rises each morning at dawn and travels six miles to haul water for his family and livestock.

The 77-year-old is among 70,000 people who live without running water on the Navajo Nation, the country's largest Indian reservation.

"He continues to do this everyday because there's no other way," said his daughter, Sharon William. "There's not another alternative. I believe the government forgot us down here."

Tsosie's story is featured in "The Water Haulers," a documentary that premiers Friday on PBS television station KNME.

The program was funded in part by the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, the Healy Foundation, the state engineer's office and the Interstate Stream Commission. It explores the challenges facing a culture when a basic human right, such as access to water, is unobtainable.

Navajo families interviewed for the documentary said they have been promised for years that a series of pipelines would be built to provide water. They now are looking to Congress to make that a reality.

"We're 30 years behind the times, 30 years behind the mainstream," Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said.

In towns that border the sprawling reservation, homes have three or four bathrooms, Shirley said.

"Then you come out here to Navajoland and you find grandmas and grandpas in this one-room house and no running water," he said.

In addition to Navajos without running water, the documentary features interviews with water rights experts and policymakers. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., talks about legislation that would settle the tribe's water rights claims in the San Juan River Basin.

The state of New Mexico and the tribe have signed a settlement agreement that resolves the tribe's water claims in the basin. But before it can be officially settled, Congress must enact legislation.

The legislation introduced Bingaman would recognize that about 600,000 acre-feet per year would go to the Navajos for agriculture, industrial, municipal, domestic and stock watering purposes. The measure also authorizes federal funding for the Navajo-Gallup pipeline project.

A similar measure has been introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.


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