Senator Kelly Introduces Bill Empowering the Colorado River Indian Tribes to Lease Tribal Water to Arizona Water Users Impacted by Drought

Today, U.S. Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema introduced the Colorado River Indian Tribe Water Resiliency Act (S. 3308), legislation that would empower the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to lease a portion of its Colorado River allocation to Arizona communities and reinvest portions of that revenue into making their water infrastructure more efficient. State and local officials, conservation groups, and business leaders say the bill is essential to making Arizona more resilient to drought. 

“Arizona is dealing with the real-time effects of drought as water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell continue to decline,” said Senator Mark Kelly. “Our bill will help lessen the impacts of Colorado River drought restrictions in the coming years, while at the same time enabling the Colorado River Indian Tribes full exercise of their water rights.”  

“Our commonsense legislation protects and strengthens Arizona’s water security, while boosting economic opportunities for the Colorado River Indian Tribes,” said Senator Sinema.

“This legislation comes at a critical time in Arizona as drought conditions worsen,” CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores said. “Thanks to the Tribe’s wise use of resources and conservation, CRIT is able to help Arizona get through this drought, while being fairly compensated for our water. This legislation protects the life of the river, protects Arizona’s fragile groundwater resources, and, for the first time in more than 220 years, allows our people to receive the full benefit from our water rights. The time has come to right this wrong and we are glad Senators Kelly and Sinema are moving this legislation forward.” 

“Valley Partnership believes in responsible growth and responsible growth is not found in reliance upon declining groundwater supplies. Responsible growth is based upon perpetual and sustainable supplies such as with use of the CRIT decreed water rights off reservation. We look forward to continuing to work with all involved in this historic effort and maximizing the benefits of this critical resource for all. We proudly support the legislation and the agreements put forth by the parties,” said Cheryl Lombard, President & CEO of Valley Partnership. 

“We need an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to addressing the Colorado River Basin’s water crisis, and tribes are essential partners,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director, Colorado River Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. “This legislation authorizes CRIT to continue engaging in collaborative water conservation agreements that will be good for tribes, Arizona, and the resilience of the Colorado River. The legislation is also important because it gives CRIT greater control over the use and management of its Colorado River water rights and improves flexible management of Colorado River water. We commend Senator Kelly and Senator Sinema for sponsoring this important bill and being a steadfast champions of policies to improve water resilience to prolonged drought.”  

“Mohave County has long supported the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ right to lease water off their reservation, and in fact the Mohave County Board of Supervisors approved a Resolution supporting the Tribes in December of 2020.  The Tribes’ right to self-determination over their water should be recognized by the United States Congress as soon as possible. I am pleased to learn that Senator Kelly is introducing a bill in Congress to authorize the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease their Colorado River Water off of their reservation,” said Travis J. Lingenfelter, Mohave County Supervisor District 1.

“La Paz County has enjoyed a great partnership with the CRIT tribe as we mutually support one another’s important initiatives. The CRIT tribe should enjoy the same rights and benefits regarding the use of its water as do other Arizona tribal governments. I applaud Senator Kelly for his sponsorship of this bill,” said Holly Irwin, La Paz County Supervisor District 3.

“The Colorado River Indian Tribal Communities continue to be trusted partners in reaching resolution to Arizona’s water needs,” said Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers. “This legislation provides optional flexibility for the Tribal Community and central Arizona water users as we move forward in long term stability for our state’s future. I sincerely hope that Congress will see the wisdom in allowing these Tribal authorities and their people this additional tool for their economic future.” 

Under the legislation and agreements, CRIT would be limited to leasing water that has been historically used on the reservation, primarily for farming. This ensures the river will see no net loss of water, provides the tribe with increased economic opportunity and maximizes use of the tribe’s senior water rights. The tribe plans to invest part of the revenue from its leases back into its Bureau of Indian Affairs irrigation system to improve water efficiency in its agriculture operations, which can increase the amount of water that can be made available for leasing to Arizona communities in future years. 

For full bill text, click HERE.

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