By a unanimous vote, the Central Arizona Project Governing Board has endorsed the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act of 2021.
This bill, introduced by U.S. Mark Kelly and co-sponsored by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, would give Colorado River Indian Tribes the authority to lease a portion of its Arizona Colorado River allocation for off-reservation use within Arizona. It is a critical proactive tool to help Arizona cope with ongoing drought, according to a release.
The CAP vote took place during the regular meeting of the Governing Board on Jan. 6.
In 2020, prior to the introduction of the bill, the Arizona Department of Water Resources held public hearings on potential water leasing legislation. Arizona entities expressing support included:
If passed, the legislation would allow Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease a part of its water allocation for use off the reservation to protect natural habitats along the river and provide direct drought relief to Arizona entities. Numerous other tribes in Arizona and around the country have the right to lease their water.
CRIT is currently using part of its allocation to help the state of Arizona maintain water levels in Lake Mead. Those efforts would continue if S.3308 were passed.
Colorado River Indian Tribes started leaving water in Lake Mead in 2016 to help avoid shortages. Colorado River Indian Tribes left 55,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in 2020 and 2021, according to provisions in the drought contingency plan, and will again in 2022.
Colorado River Indian Tribes has sufficient resources to accomplish all of its goals thanks to conservation efforts that include irrigation and farming efficiencies, as well as fallowing farmland. Indeed, Colorado River Indian Tribes comes to the table with actual existing water resources, as opposed to water that only exists on paper, the release states.
“Because we have been serious about conserving water, we have the ability to protect the life of the Colorado River as well as providing short term drought relief to entities that need it. Conservation is paramount for CRIT and the CAP and we hope S.3308 becomes law so we can all work together and protect the life of the Colorado River,” CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores said in the release.
“We are pleased to support this legislation, allowing the Colorado River Indian Tribes – one of Arizona’s largest and most senior Colorado River water rights holders – to have more flexibility in managing its water resources. This also allows CRIT to become more fully engaged in addressing the water-related challenges facing Arizona,” said Ted Cooke, CAP General Manager.
CRIT has the first priority decreed water right to divert 719,248 acre-feet (about 234 billion gallons) per year to serve lands in both Arizona and California.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes include four distinct tribes — the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo. There are = about 4,572 Ttribal members.
The CRIT Reservation was created in 1865 by the federal government for “Indians of the Colorado River and its tributaries,” originally for the Mohave and Chemehuevi, who had inhabited the area for centuries. People of the Hopi and Navajo Tribes were relocated to the reservation in later years.
The reservation stretches along the Colorado River on both the Arizona and California side. It includes approximately 300,000 acres of land, with the river serving as the focal point and lifeblood of the area.
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