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3 Native American tribes seeking rights to Colorado River water in $5B settlement

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A proposed water rights settlement for three Native American tribes that carries a price tag larger than any such agreement enacted by Congress took a significant step forward late Monday with introduction in the Navajo Nation Council.

The Navajo Nation has one of the largest single outstanding claims in the Colorado River basin and will vote soon on the measure in a special session. It’s the first of many approvals — ending with Congress — that’s needed to finalize the deal.

Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and demands on the river like those that have allowed Phoenix, Las Vegas and other desert cities to thrive pushed the tribes into settlement talks. The Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes are hoping to close the deal quickly under a Democratic administration in Arizona and with Joe Biden as president.

PLUMBING PROBLEM AT GLEN CANYON DAM THREATENS WATER SUPPLY OF COLORADO RIVER SYSTEM

A landmark 1922 agreement divided the Colorado River basin water among seven western states but left out tribes. The tribes are seeking water from a mix of sources: the Colorado River, the Little Colorado River, aquifers and washes on tribal lands in northeastern Arizona.

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Nearly one-third of homes on the Navajo Nation, which stretches across 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, don’t have running water. Many homes on Hopi are similarly situated.

San Juan Southern Paiute will vote on the settlement within weeks, tribal President Robbin Preston Jr. said in an email. Along with guaranteed water deliveries, the tribe is asking Congress to approve a treaty it signed with the Navajo Nation in 2000 to establish an 8.4 square-mile reservation within the Navajo reservation.

A windmill draws water for livestock in Leupp, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation on March 9, 2024. A proposed water rights settlement for three Native American tribes that carries a price tag larger than any such agreement enacted by Congress took a significant step forward late on May 13, with introduction in the Navajo Nation Council. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

“We will have economic opportunities that our tribal members have never seen before, and which will give hope and pride to our people,” Preston said.

Without a settlement, the tribes would be at the mercy of courts. Already, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government is not bound by treaties with the Navajo Nation to secure water for the tribe. Navajo has the largest land base of any of the 574 federally recognized tribes and is second in population with more than 400,000 citizens.

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A separate case that has played out over decades in Arizona over the Little Colorado River basin likely will result in far less water than the Navajo Nation says it needs because the tribe has to prove it has historically used the water. That’s hard to do when the tribe hasn’t had access to much of it, Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch said.

Congress has enacted nearly three dozen tribal water rights settlements across the U.S. since 1978. Federal negotiation teams are working on another 22 settlements involving 34 tribes in nine states, the Interior Department said.

The costliest one enacted by Congress was for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana at $1.9 billion. The Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes are seeking more than $5 billion in their settlement.

About $1.75 billion of that would fund a pipeline from Lake Powell, one of the two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River system, on the Arizona-Utah border. The settlement would require the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to complete it by the end of 2040.

From there, water would be delivered to dozens of tribal communities in remote areas.

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“Whatever funding we walk away with is funding we don’t otherwise have,” Branch said. “It will be a challenge.”

The Navajo Nation has settled its claims to the Colorado River basin in New Mexico and Utah. It’s separately pursuing two other much smaller settlements in New Mexico.

Arizona — situated in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin with California, Nevada and Mexico — is unique in that it also has an allocation in the Upper Basin. Under the settlement terms, Navajo and Hopi would get about 47,000 acre-feet in the Upper Basin — nearly the entire amount that was set aside for use at the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that shut down in late 2019. Navajo previously had agreed not to seek that water for the 50 years prior to 2019.

The proposal also includes a combined 9,500 acre-feet per year of water from the Colorado River’s Lower Basin for Navajo and Hopi. Navajo additionally would have the right to draw 40,780 acre-feet from the Little Colorado River — about one-third of what’s estimated to reach the reservation annually.

An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve two to three U.S. households annually.

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Arizona, in turn, gets certainty in the amount of water available throughout the state as it’s forced to cut back as the overall supply diminishes. Navajo and Hopi, like other Arizona tribes, could be part of that solution if they secure the right to lease water within the state that could be delivered through a canal system that already serves metropolitan Tucson and Phoenix.

The two tribes came close to reaching a pact to settle water rights in Arizona in 2012, but the tentative deal fell through. This time around, Navajo officials launched a public education campaign.

They held lengthy community meetings with translations in Navajo — “tó bee há haz’ a” meaning “water right,” for example — and described water’s role in the tribe’s creation story and in ceremonies. They explained complicated water law, past attempts to settle and what’s at stake if the settlement fails.

In Leupp, the audience mostly asked about immediate needs: fixing the electricity on the water pump, improving roads and drilling wells.

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Marlene Yazzie recalled her mother hitchhiking more than 100 miles to pressure tribal officials for electricity and water — which never came. Yazzie herself relies on water hauled to her home in nearby Birdsprings for washing, drinking and for her livestock.

“How many more years do we have to wait?” she asked.

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Southwest

Arizona man convicted in 6-year-old son's starvation death

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A northern Arizona man was convicted in a jury trial Thursday of first-degree murder and other crimes in the 2020 starvation death of his 6-year-old son.

FORMER ARIZONA GRAD STUDENT CONVICTED OF KILLING PROFESSOR

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Authorities say the boy was locked in a tiny bedroom closet for 16 hours a day over a month with his older brother as punishment for stealing his family’s food at night when their parents were asleep.

FILE – This undated booking photo provided by the Flagstaff Police Department shows Anthony Martinez. The northern Arizona man was convicted in a jury trial Thursday, May 23, 2024, of first-degree murder and other crimes in the 2020 starvation death of his 6-year-old son. (Flagstaff Police Department via AP, File)

A Coconino County Superior Court jury delivered its verdict against 28-year-old Anthony Martinez in the death of his son, Deshaun Martinez. In addition to the murder charge, it also found him guilty of two counts each of child abuse, kidnapping, and aggravated assault on law enforcement officers.

Prosecutors said an autopsy showed the boy weighed just 18 pounds and had died of severe starvation.

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The boys’ mother, Elizabeth Archibeque, was sentenced in July 2023 to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse.

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Los Angeles, Ca

Bear spotted frolicking across driveway in Ventura County neighborhood 

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Bear spotted frolicking across driveway in Ventura County neighborhood 

Authorities are advising residents of one Ventura County neighborhood to be on the lookout for a bear that was spotted ambling through a driveway at the end of a cul-de-sac. 

The Santa Paula Police Department was first notified of the bear sighting early Thursday morning, a Facebook post from the department indicated. 

Where it was first spotted was not immediately released. 

Almost 24 hours later at 5 a.m. Friday, the bear was seen again, this time maneuvering between parked cars and a garage on Leavens Court, located off Richard Road in Santa Paula. 

The bear was seen maneuvering between parked cars and a garage on Leavens Court, located off Richard Road in Santa Paula, around 5 a.m. Friday. (Facebook/Santa Paula Police Department)

Video posted by the department shows the bear – which several commenters speculated to be a cub – frolicking across the driveway of a home.

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According to police, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was dispatched to confirm the bear’s location, but they could not find it. 

The bear was last seen heading south from Leavens Court, authorities said. 

Anyone who spots the bear is asked to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 805-644-1766. Calls can also be directed to the Santa Paula Police Department’s non-emergency line at 805-525-4474. 

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Southwest

Remaining wrongful death lawsuit filed after deadly Astroworld concert has been settled, lawyer says

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The one remaining wrongful death lawsuit filed after 10 people were killed during a deadly crowd crush at the 2021 Astroworld music festival has been settled, an attorney said Thursday.

Jury selection in the lawsuit filed by the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, the youngest person killed during the concert by rapper Travis Scott, had been set to begin Sept. 10.

ASTROWORLD TRAGEDY: EVERYTHING TO KNOW

But S. Scott West, an attorney for Blount’s family, said a settlement was reached this week.

Blount’s family had sued Scott, Live Nation — the festival’s promoter and the world’s largest live entertainment company — and other companies and individuals connected to the event, including Apple Inc., which livestreamed the concert.

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Travis Scott performs at Day 1 of the Astroworld music festival at NRG Park, Nov. 5, 2021, in Houston. The one remaining wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, the youngest person killed during the concert, after 10 people were killed during the deadly crowd crush at the 2021 Astroworld music festival has been settled, an attorney said Thursday, May 23, 2024.  (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

“The family will continue its journey to heal, but never forget the joy that Ezra brought to everyone around him,” West said in an email.

Treston Blount, Ezra’s father, had said that during the Nov. 5, 2021, concert, his son was sitting on his shoulders when they were crushed by the crowd. Treston Blount lost consciousness and when he came to, Ezra was missing. A frantic search ensued until Ezra was eventually found at a Houston hospital, severely injured. The boy, who was from Dallas, died several days later.

The lawsuit filed by Blount’s family was one of 10 wrongful death civil suits filed after the deadly concert.

Earlier this month, lawyers had announced that the other nine wrongful death lawsuits had been settled in connection with the concert.

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Terms of the settlements in all 10 lawsuits were confidential.

The settlement of the lawsuit filed by Blount’s family was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Attorneys for Live Nation, Scott and others have declined to comment in the case because of a gag order that limits what they can say outside court.

About 2,400 injury cases filed after the deadly concert remain pending. More than 4,000 plaintiffs filed hundreds of lawsuits after the Astroworld crowd crush.

During the crowd crush, attendees were packed so tightly that many could not breathe or move their arms. Those killed ranged in age from 9 to 27. They died from compression asphyxia, which an expert likened to being crushed by a car.

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Earlier this month, state District Judge Kristen Hawkins, who is presiding over the litigation, had scheduled the first trial related to the injury cases for Oct. 15. That trial was set to focus on seven injury cases. It was not clear on Thursday if that trial date would remain or be moved up with the settlement in the Blount lawsuit.

So far, no lawsuit has gone before a jury. One wrongful death lawsuit — filed by the family of 23-year-old Houston resident Madison Dubiski — was days away from going to trial earlier this month before it was delayed and then settled.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits have alleged in court filings that the deaths and hundreds of injuries at the concert were caused by negligent planning and a lack of concern over capacity and safety at the event.

Scott, Live Nation and the others who’ve been sued have denied these claims, saying safety was their No. 1 concern. They said what happened could not have been foreseen.

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After a police investigation, a grand jury last year declined to indict Scott, along with five others connected to the festival.

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