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Colorado River Indian Tribes Want To Lease Water For Non-Tribal Use

The Colorado River Indian Tribes on the western edge of Arizona have the  largest share of first-priority Colorado River water rights in the state. Now, the tribal council is proposing to lease some of its water for non-tribal use. 

Colorado River Indian Tribes chairman Dennis Patch thinks tribal water can be a valuable tool in Arizona drought mitigation.

“We have to take the use of water seriously, and by leasing water we’re measuring every drop that’s being leased," Patch told KJZZ. 

The tribes also anticipate economic gains from the plan. Patch said casino and resort revenue has fallen short in 2020 amid the pandemic. He is optimistic water leases could offset those losses.

The tribal council voted in 2019 to move forward with the leasing plan, but Margaret Vick, an attorney for the tribes, said that’s just the first step.

“There’s a federal statute that prohibits the sale or lease or transfer of federal trust assets held on behalf of the tribes," Vick said. The only way to change that is with an act of Congress.

The tribes have a  proposed bill, but it doesn't yet have a sponsor in Congress. 

The Arizona Department of Water Resources is  planning two public meetings Dec. 7 and 10 to discuss the proposal. Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 8.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.