By Mark Phillips
The Gila River Indian Nation announced Monday that it will continue to conserve a significant portion of its share of Colorado River water, leaving a significant amount in Lake Mead.
In August, the Gila River Indian Nation said it was going to take its allotment and store it because of concerns other stakeholders were not doing enough to conserve.
“We have to act responsibly as water users, as protectors. Especially with this critical resource that we have. We have to respect the water,” Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis said.
During a meeting of Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s Water Advisory Council, Lewis said the Gila Indian Community will dedicate 775,000 acre-feet of water to conservation over the next three years.
“This is important for the future of our entire region and the leadership of Governor Lewis and his community shows incredible commitment to water stewardship,” Senator Sinema said.
Beginning in 2023, Arizona will forfeit 592,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River allotment. It’s approximately 80,000 more acre-feet of water than the state forfeited this year. The amount is more than six times the water Tucson uses in a year.
California is the biggest user of Colorado River water.
Recently, the state offered to forfeit 400,000 acre-feet, but California is under no obligation to forfeit any of its water.
But it’s the type of cooperation the Gila Indian Nation was looking for before it reconsidered.
“We had to look very hard at storing water underground rather than store in Lake Mead,” Lewis said. “When all these interests both private and commercial and some municipal were wavering we needed to make a strong stand.”
Senator Sinema is counting on her advisory board, which is made up of conservationists, water experts and government officials, to develop proposals Senator Sinema can recommend to the Bureau of Reclamation for drought mitigation and water conservation projects in Arizona.
The Bureau of Reclamation is overseeing the use of $4 billion in federal money dedicated to projects aimed at helping manage the effects of the extreme drought which is plaguing the Southwest United States.
“We will either work together and succeed with a strong water future or we will fail together,” the Senator said.
Sinema was responsible for getting the money included in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress earlier this year.