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Colorado River tribes, Haaland sign historic agreement granting right to lease water off-reservation

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

A historic water rights agreement was signed between the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state of Arizona and the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, along the banks of the Colorado River at the BlueWater Resort and Casino on Friday.

Congress passed the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act in 2022, authorizing CRIT to lease, exchange, store or conserve portions of its decreed water entitlements in Arizona for off-reservation users.

Now, two years later, a historic, trilateral agreement has been established between the state, tribe and federal government, with three signatories: Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“The celebration today is the beginning of a new chapter for tribal sovereignty and self-determination,” said Hobbs. “Tribal leaders have the freedom to manage their resources and by extension their futures.”

“This river flows through us and so on this special sacred day, we recognize the strengthening of our sovereignty and step forward to further protect and enhance our wellbeing and that of future generations to come,” said Flores. “We celebrate the empowerment of our rights to make our own decisions, with who, when and how our water resources may be used.”

“We know this simple truth: Water is sacred,” said Haaland. “And if you doubt the ancestors are guiding our work, all you have to do is go out there and you will feel it.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton were also in attendance.

Founded in 1865, the sprawling CRIT Reservation spans across 300,000 acres of land between Arizona and California, including 90 miles of river shoreline, and holds onto senior water rights to divert roughly 719,000 acre-feet annually.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.