The water supply in central Arizona is spread increasingly thin, especially when seen on a long-term basis as a drought continues. Decades ago, Valley cities began buying farmland to secure alternate sources, although some of the land later was sold off. Now there is talk of a long-term lease from the Colorado River Indian Tribes, which may be worth pursuing.
The tribal nation, with its home along the Colorado River, has a large right from the river, double what Nevada gets annually. It also is a senior right, with higher priority than the Central Arizona Project, which now is a major part of the supply of the Phoenix and Tucson areas and Pinal County. The tribe is interested in a lease, with a possible term of 100 years and renewable, but it would need permission from Congress to do that.
Indian tribes in general have had to fight for decades to secure their natural resources, and they do not want to give those up. Also, the clear question with a lease is what happens when the lease is over. However, there is talk of bringing large amounts of water from the ocean or a river into the region. This has sounded futuristic, but it makes sense, and the economics eventually will be achievable. In the meantime, a long-term tribal lease could be beneficial for all parties.
According to an Arizona Republic report, the tribe has been considering the idea for a few years. In 2019, a vote of tribal members resulted in 60% approval to seek a federal OK for a water lease, which tribal leaders say could be for up to 150,000 acre-feet a year. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has been facilitating the process.
The tribe could use the proceeds for modernizing its farms and also aiding its members in the way that casinos have benefited other tribes, especially the ones located near urban areas.
This is an idea that is definitely worth exploring, and if all parties agree, gaining federal approval should not be a problem. Also, importing water to the region needs more study.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.