WASHINGTON - On Dec 10, 2004, President Bush signed the proposed Arizona
Water Settlement Act (S 437) into law, a historic agreement spearheaded by
Arizona Senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain that is being called the most
expansive water settlement in U.S. history. Legal representatives of the
federal government, the states of Arizona and New Mexico, and the Gila
River and Tohono O'odham Nations have been embroiled in heated negotiations
over the issue of water rights for more than 10 years.
According to a statement issued after the president signed the bill by
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the settlement will "provide a
comprehensive resolution to some of the most critical water use issues
facing Indian tribes and Arizona today." As a result of the new law,
Arizona tribes will now control almost half of the water of the Colorado
River, water that had previously been set aside for the cities of Phoenix
Although the tribes have the authority to lease portions of their water to
surrounding cities within the state, it is expected that they will use
their allocations for their own tribal agricultural endeavors.
The law also settles the long-standing debate over the fees that the state
of Arizona owes the federal government for the construction of the Central
Arizona Project (CAP) in 1968. CAP is a 336 mile canal system that delivers
water into the state's arid interior. Federal authorities had originally
set the price at approximately $2.3 billion. The settlement act reduces
that amount to $1.65 billion.
"The achievement of this legislation is underscored by its complexity and
interlocking provisions to solve longstanding water issues for the state
and tribes in the region," Norton said. "This comprehensive approach is the
right way to resolve longstanding disputes regarding the use of the Central
Arizona Project and this portion of Arizona's allocation from the Colorado
Through the settlement, the Gila River Nation will receive approximately
155,700 acre-feet of water while the Tohono O'odham will receive
approximately 37,800 acre-feet. The Gila River tribe will also lease
approximately 40,000 acre-feet of their allotment, as per the settlement
agreement. Each acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons. Some 67,000
acre-feet of water that had been previously unclaimed, will now be
distributed among several Arizona cities, with an additional 96,000
acre-feet held in reserve for future allocation.
"It is a historic day for Arizona and Arizona water policy," said Rep. J.D.
Hayworth, R-Ariz., and House sponsor of the bill. "With the president's
signature, we resolve old grievances and move forward to new
possibilities," he added.
In a statement released Nov. 17, 2004, Kyl applauded the finalization of
the settlement. "This vote completes 15 years of hard work, by literally
dozens of parties, to resolve amicably a long list of disputes that affect
their very livelihoods," he wrote. "In plain English, this legislation
demonstrates that even a vast array of diverse groups with divergent
interests can resolve strong differences over scarce and critical
resources, if they persevere and operate in good faith."