Daniel Aaron Grant

Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Fall 5-12-2010

Major Department or Program

Politics - Environmental Studies


Shampa Biswas; Don Snow


As climate change causes much of the arid American Southwest to become hotter and drier, much has been written about how communities are struggling to cope with an uncertain future supply of water. It is well documented that snowmelt in the mountains occurs earlier in the spring, causing water that has historically been available in the rivers later in the summer to simply disappear. Drought also brings up issues of equity. Like many other tribes throughout the Southwest, the Navajo Nation, straddling Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, has been deprived to develop it, despite being legally entitled. With increasing drought, some have argued that tribes will be disproportionately affected by climate change when compared to surrounding Anglo communities. There is ample reason to be wary: there is perhaps no greater indicator of the remaining vestiges of the Navajo Nation’s Anglo colonial past than its ongoing struggle to attain and retain water and dwindling water supplies could easily amplify this existing inequality.

But recent Navajo water settlements reached through intense negotiation processes among Anglo water users and the Navajo Nation indicate that water scarcity can actually bring people together and make them more willing to negotiate and reach a settlement. At the root of this is the need for certainty. In the midst of increasing uncertainty- and the interdependency- these communities are searching for as much future water certainty as political settlements can give them. This thesis examines how the negotiation process impelled by drought can redefine the quest for certainty and restructure a power hierarchy between the Navajo and Anglos that for centuries has been entrenched and stagnant. I posit that the urgency of drought acts as a catalyst to negotiate water settlements between the Navajo Nation and the surrounding Anglo communities. In the midst of an increasingly uncertain future of water supply, negotiation, rather than litigation, can be seen as an adaptive method of resolving settlements. Negotiation requires both Navajos and Anglos to relinquish their steadfast belief that each is entitled to all the water in the river and to accept the prospect of increasing interdependency for increasingly scarce resource. Although negotiation should not be seen as a silver bullet for future water dispute resolution, the cycle of interdependency that negotiation represents is perhaps a more sustainable, innovative, and flexible way to address water shortages. Paradoxically, drought can bring water.

Page Count


Subject Headings

Water -- Law and legislation -- United States, Water rights -- United States, Anglo-Indians -- Social life and customs, Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico & Utah), Climatic changes, Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2010 -- Politics-Environmental Studies

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Document Type

Whitman Community Accessible Thesis

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