April 23, 2005
Federal, state and tribal officials on Friday praised the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act as the most important water-rights settlement in U.S. history.
The comments were made during the first of two days of festivities being held at the Gila River Indian Community to celebrate the federal legislation that passed in December.
The law was designed to settle long-standing litigation over American Indian water claims and to specify how much water the tribe is entitled to.
The bill, which came after 15 years of lawsuits and negotiations between state, federal and tribal officials, is the "culmination of decades of struggle," for tribes, said Richard Narcia, governor of the Gila River community.
Narcia credited, among others, Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, both R-Ariz., with pushing the bill through at the last minute during last year’s lame-duck session of Congress.
Kyl, while noting grumbles from Arizona’s northern neighbors about water allocations, said he expected the new law to endure the test of time as a framework for water disagreements.
"As long as we’re here there will always be water disputes," Kyl said at Friday’s gathering.
Under the agreement, the Gila River community is entitled to 653,500 acre-feet of water per year.
Several Valley cities will lease water from the tribe. In return, the tribe will waive claims against Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert for surface water and groundwater pumping.
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn called the agreement "a great regional solution" for area water planning.
Also under the agreement, Chandler will provide reclaimed water to the tribe to allow the community to expand its agricultural operations.
A celebration featuring Indian songs and dances is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Gila River Indian Community Fair and Rodeo Grounds.