Update: Referendum passed. Original story below.
Members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes will vote Saturday on an ordnance that would open a path to pursuing lucrative water leasing opportunities.
Much of CRIT’s substantial rights to Colorado River water are not being used, so even a small portion of its total entitlement would be very valuable, with potentially tens of millions of dollars becoming available to the Tribes for services, irrigation system improvements and increased per-member distribution, according to CRIT.
According to a packet released publicly by the CRIT Tribal Council, the proposal would pave the way for obtaining federal legislation that would give CRIT the right to lease some of its water to entities for use outside the reservation. This would help with one of the southwest’s biggest problems: water resource management at a time of rising populations and drought. In effect, there is a big need for an important resource that CRIT possesses.
“In 1867 the federal government promised to create and maintain an irrigation system for our peoples,” the packet says. “It is a broken promise as our irrigation system makes it impossible for CRIT to maximize the use of its entire entitlement of Colorado River water. Half of it simply flows down the river for the use and benefit of others in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. We need to improve our system so you benefit from our water.”
The proposal is limited to leasing, not selling, the water. Entities who need it would be able to pay CRIT to use some of its water for a limited period of time, for which the Tribes would otherwise receive no compensation.
If approved, the Tribal Council will be permitted to pursue federal legislation to make deals possible, and then to make such deals. Each leasing agreement would be authorized by a vote of the council only after a public hearing. The ordnance states that it would not affect the number of acres of land currently used for agriculture.
The referendum will be held Saturday, January 19th, 2019.