Walton on native water rights in the Colorado River Basin

Brett Walton has done us all a great service with a thorough look at the issues surrounding Native American water rights in the Colorado River Basin. Importantly, he’s looking at it not just as a problem, but as an example of what the solution space can look like. The stuff from Kathryn Sorensen, Phoenix’s water manager, is a great example:

Years of careful negotiations, spurred by a desire to avoid long-running court battles, produced legal settlements that provide water for tribes, cities, and industries. Beneficial to all sides, the settlements were a catalyst for urban development and a tool for funding Indian water systems. Perhaps more importantly, the settlements are the foundation of a partnership, an inescapable union, between tribes and their neighbors, a union that will grow in importance as water becomes scarcer in the warming and drying American West.

“We’ve developed tremendous and valuable relationships with each other from being in the same room for years,” Kathryn Sorensen, director of the Phoenix water department, told Circle of Blue. “Water is always important and contentious in Arizona. But having relationships helps you have conversations when you want new solutions.”….

Creative also means selling the temporary right to use water to others, an action called leasing, which is common in the Phoenix metro area. Home to 4.5 million people, Phoenix and its Sonoran Desert neighbors are the biggest beneficiaries of these creative arrangements.

Phoenix leases water from three tribes, and a fourth agreement is nearing completion. The terms of the deals are straightforward. Phoenix makes an upfront payment, typically millions of dollars, to the tribe and pays an annual charge to cover the cost of pumping the water to operators of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal, which transports Colorado River water hundreds of miles to the dry heart of the state.

I recommend clicking and reading the entire article.

One Comment

  1. Hi John. Walton’s article is first rate, as usual. When I stated the article, I wondered that it was Anglo water managers who were quoted. Where are the indigenous voices in the partnership that is being celebrated by the water managers, I wondered? Then he lists the interviews he tried to arrange that didn’t work out, except for one. This is a well reported fact that calls for some thought. Indigenous/Anglo relations are historically and culturally loaded and a matter of passionate memories of colonialism and contemporary questions of sovereignty. Walton did his best, but without that side of the story (and the side of Nuevomexicanos in NM), a call on how things are faring under increasing water/environment stress is premature. Consider Aamodt as the counterexample from hell. You and Walton both know all this, but I wanted to comment to make sure you get a lot of this issue into the book (:

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