Historic Water Rights Settlement For Native Tribes
If the tribal claims had been left unresolved, they could have dragged through the courts for years and cost the state significantly more in time, money and water.
Of the 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water that flows down the Central Arizona Project canal each year, 650,784 would be set aside for Indian claims.
The bill would directly allocate 102,000 acre-feet of CAP water to the Gila River Community and shift an additional 53,700 acre-feet of water from other users.
It would reallocate 28,200 acre-feet of water to the Tohono O’odham Nation and shift an additional 9,600 acre-feet to the tribe. An additional 67,300 acre-feet would still be available for future tribal settlements.
“We’ve been in this struggle to regain our water rights for almost a century,” said Gila River Governor Richard Narcia, who was in the Nation’s Capitol when the settlement was passed. “Our traditional name is translated to ‘River People’, and to regain that water is not only something we’ve been working toward, it’s a cultural issue for our people.” They can become farmers again!
The Gila Community plans to put most of the water to work restoring farmland left fallow for generations with a small amount leased to Valley cities. The water battles won’t end as The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona want their claims to the Colorado settled.
Negotiations over the final draft took several years and failed several times to make it out of Congress. The Senate finally approved the package on October 10th. On Wednesday, November 17th, the measure was passed by the House thus sending it to President Bush who has announced support for the bill which also sets aside money to help tribes build needed water infrastructure, with aid specifically for the San Carlos Irrigation Project which was initiated in the 1930s but was never completed and establish water delivery requirements and construction obligations to the San Xavier Indian Reservation near Tucson. Other claims involve the San Carlos Apache and the White Mountain Apache Tribes.
From the November 23rd edtorial pps of The Arizona Republic.
“In an arid environment, nothing is more precious than water and with the historic passage by Congress of the Arizona Water Settlements Act, the state’s water future just got a little more certain – and better – for everyone.”
This story was edited for content and length from a front page article in the November 18th edition of The Arizona Republic bylined – Shaun Mckinnon and Billy House.
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