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Arizona tribe proposes law to lease its water rights

December 11, 2020 GMT

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. (AP) — The Colorado River Indian Tribes is proposing a federal law to allow it to lease water rights in Arizona, a move that could aid the state’s response to the drought.

The tribe said in public hearings this week that it would use the money raised from leasing Colorado River water to bolster services to its members, including for health care, education, elder programs and law enforcement. The tribe is made up of four distinct groups of Native Americans — Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi and Navajo — along the Arizona-California border.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes has one of the largest allocations of Colorado River water anywhere, and it’s among the most secure, dating back to the 1860s when the reservation based in Parker was formed.

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It’s 662,000 acre-feet (over 800 billion liters) in Arizona is bigger than the state’s allocation. It also has 56,000 acre-feet in California. An acre-foot is enough to supply a typical family for a year.

A lot of the allocation in Arizona goes unused by the tribe, ending up back in the Colorado River and into a canal system that serves Phoenix and Tucson.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes isn’t allowed to lease those water rights under a longstanding federal statute. Its proposal to lease water, exchange water and store it underground on the reservation involves only its Arizona share.

Leasing the water would allow more access to water statewide and help prevent severe drought because the tribe’s allocation is unlikely to be cut in any future water shortage, the tribe said.

Congress would have to OK the proposal before the tribe could begin negotiating water leases, Today’s News-Herald in Lake Havasu City reported. The Arizona Department of Water Resources director would review any deals the tribe makes to ensure they are legal and the water is put to beneficial use in Arizona.

The department and the Colorado River Indian Tribes are gathering public comment on the proposal until Jan. 8.