Water for gaming compacts? Arizona bill would 'attack' tribes 'very existence'

The Associated Press

Bill would require Arizona tribes to resolve water disputes

PHOENIX (AP) — Republican legislative leaders have introduced legislation to require tribal governments in Arizona to resolve longstanding water disputes with the state before negotiating new gambling pacts.

Cosponsors of the legislation, House Bill 244 7, include House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, the Arizona Republic reports.

The bill's chief sponsor, Prescott Republican Rep. Steve Pierce, said it would help speed up the state's complex and lengthy negotiations with tribes over water rights because tribes want to retain the economic benefits of gambling casinos.

"It needs to be resolved for the tribes and for the state," Pierce said of the water disputes. 

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's office in recent years has been negotiating new tribal gambling compacts, potentially overhauling them.

Terms of the state's compacts with individual tribes dictate how much gambling revenue is shared with state and local governments.

Ducey during his Jan. 13 State of the State address thanked tribal leaders for the negotiations, and said a deal was "close." 

"It's been a give and take," he said. "We owe it to our tribes and our citizens to get it done."

Under the proposed water legislation, "This state may not enter into, negotiate, execute, extend or renew any tribal-state gaming compact with a tribe that is a party to litigation regarding water rights in which this state is an adverse party."

Pierce told the Republic that he had't heard from Ducey's office about the water bill but that he expects initial opposition from tribes.

That's understandable but the bill would help the tribes, Pierce said. "The sooner they get things resolved, the bills from the lawyers' offices go down."

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, Navajo, D-Cameron, said it's certain the tribes will oppose the measure.

"They are going to consider it an attack on their very existence. And it really is."

She said the issues were individually important.

"This bill would try to merge them together to address an Arizona state water crisis that the state itself has not prepared for. Each of those issues needs to be addressed on their own," Peshlakai said.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute, said a problem with the bill is that tribes don't hold all the cards in the water disputes.

"It is not really in the tribes' power to settle," Porter said. "They could deeply desire to settle, but there are lots of other parties and entities that have to participate."

Porter said a tribe could have a gambling compact tied up as the parties in a water settlement wait for approval from the federal government, for example.

"This bill would change the balance of power ... and give the other parties to a potential water settlement also power over tribes ability to negotiate a gaming compact," Porter said.

Comments (11)
No. 1-9

I am part white + part Seminole and I'm not even a part of this debate, though I wish I were, but I wanted 2 give my opinion nonetheless. I do not agree with combining these 2 issues! It's never right 2 attempt 2 blackmail anyone at anytime! The government is using the tribes gambling pacts as blackmail 2 get those water rights and everyone should stand against this as a matter of simple morals and ethics. It is against the law 2 blackmail another human being, it's that simple!

On a personal note; I've wished, my entire life, that I'd been raised within my native heritage but I wasn't so now I'm trying 2 learn more about it.


Right. I agree. These issues should not be combined. Water issues are complex. Hands off Republicans.


In addition to being a gross violation of tribal sovereignty, and a third finger salute to the Winters decision, this is just plain stupid from an economic standpoint. Indian gaming is a significant source of revenue for AZ. Mess with that at your own peril, colonizers!


Something needs to be done. Some times you have to strong arm people into doing whats right for them. The rest of AZ and the southwest deserves some respect.


I share this with people I come in contact with, 2 get the word out! People need to stand up for what's right and not let this goverent run over the Indians AGAIN!


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