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Colorado River Indian Tribes see water legislation pass Congress

Photo of the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon
A view of the Colorado River from Nankoweap Granaries in Grand Canyon. (File Photos/

Federal Colorado River legislation now headed to the Oval Office

Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

Federal legislation headed to President Joe Biden is meant to authorize the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease a portion of its allocation of water that flows though the Colorado River.

Recently passed, the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act was written specifically to address the needs of the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), and it provides Arizona with critical drought relief while upholding the first-priority water rights of the CRIT, according to a press release.

“On behalf of the Tribal Council and the members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, I want to thank the members of Congress who worked with us to pass this landmark legislation,” said CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores in a prepared statement.

“I also want to thank the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Central Arizona Project leadership, Tribal leaders who supported our legislation, and all of the elected leaders and stakeholders in Arizona who supported CRIT as we have worked for years on this legislation. In early 2019 our Tribal members voted overwhelmingly to authorize the Tribal Council to pursue this legislation. Since then, the past and present members of the Tribal Council have worked continuously and collaboratively with the Colorado River stakeholders to make this legislation a reality. The people asked this of us, and Congress has acted.”

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly introduced the legislation to authorized lease of water rites to off-reservation recipients.

“The passage of our bill today is a win-win-win for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the state of Arizona, and the West,” he said. “As this historic drought persists, our efforts serve as one more critical step to securing Arizona’s water future by empowering CRIT to conserve more water to keep in Lake Mead and make sure communities who need water have more options to get it. I am grateful for Chairwoman Flores’ partnership and determination in getting this legislation across the finish line.”

Senator Kyrsten Sinema is a supporter of the legislative effort.

“By working with senators on both sides of the aisle, we ensured critical priorities for Arizona’s tribal communities would not fall victim to partisanship. Passage of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act will help ensure the tribe’s continued economic growth and water certainty,” she said in a prepared statement.

House Resources Committee Chairman, Congressman Raul Grijalva says this federal legislation will help ongoing drought relief efforts.

“Communities across the state of Arizona are dealing with historic, unrelenting drought conditions that are becoming a permanent fixture in the West due to climate change. Fortunately, this important piece of legislation will allow the Colorado River Indian Tribes to help Arizonans through these challenges while also ensuring fair compensation for use of the Tribes’ water,” he said. “I’m proud to have worked alongside the Colorado River Indian Tribes to develop and pass this legislation—it’s a win-win for drought relief and greater tribal sovereignty and economic development.”

CRIT water leases will not increase overall water usage on the Colorado River. The legislation calls for CRIT to provide this water through conservation, likely by fallowing farmland.

CRIT Vice-Chairman Dwight Lomayesva says Arizona tribes understand the value of water.

“We know how to conserve water and we understand that the Colorado River must be preserved. CRIT has been fallowing farmland, leaving water in Lake Mead and modernizing the federal irrigation and water delivery systems on the reservation for years,” he said. “The additional funds from water leasing will further these efforts as the CRIT continue to make their water available to help save Lake Mead. Most importantly the funds from water leasing will support our tribal membership and improve much needed services for our people.”

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