Tribe becomes key water player with drought aid to Arizona

FLAGSTAFF (AZ.) A tribe from Arizona relied on the Colorado River's natural flood patterns for farming for thousands of years. Later, the tribe built canals and ditches by hand to transport water to its fields.Now gravity pumps the river water through the 19th century canals from the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation to the north. This is done to sustain alfalfa and cotton as well as wheat, onions, potatoes, and wheat.Some of these fields have not been producing in recent years as the tribe provides water to Lake Mead to weather the historic drought in the American West. This reservoir is used to gauge how much water Arizona, and other states, will receive under plans for protecting the river that serves 40 million people.The Arizona tribe of the Colorado River Indian Tribes played a significant role in drought contingency plans, which saw the state give up water. The tribes are seen as key players in the future water supply. Arizona will be forced to reduce its Colorado River supply next year.We were told what to do all the time, and now it is taking shape. Amelia Flores, the first-term Chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, said that tribes have been invited to the table for negotiations and input on the river issues.Lake Mead, Nevada-Arizona border, has dropped to its lowest point in 30 years. According to water experts, the situation could have been worse if the tribe had not agreed to store 150,000 acres in the lake for three years. One acre-foot can supply one to two households each year. Water was also donated by the Gila River Indian Community.In return, the Colorado River Indian Tribes were awarded $38 million and $30 million respectively from the state. Last month, environmentalists, foundations, and corporations made a promise to contribute the remainder.Kevin Moran, Environmental Defense Fund, said that the agreement signals a new approach in combating droughts, climate change, and the demand from rivers.Continue the storyHe said that the Colorado River basin, as we see it, is the ground zero for climate-related water impacts. We must plan for the river, and the watersheds climate scientists predict we will have, not for the one we may wish for.Officials from the Tribal claim that the $38 million is far more than they would have paid for leasing the land. Margaret Vick, a tribal attorney, stated that the Colorado River Indian Tribes had stopped farming over 15 miles (39 km) in order to make water.She said that there is an economic and conservation tradeoff.The tribe will use the money to improve its water infrastructure, even though some fields remain dry. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs built the first irrigation system in the area, which was installed in 1867 and serves nearly 125 square miles (323 km) of tribal land.It's in constant need for improvements due to its age. Flores, the tribal chairwoman said that some sections of the concrete and earthen canals are lined while others aren’t. This means water can be lost through seepage and cracks.The tribe's 2016 study estimated that the cost to correct deficiencies would be more than $75 million. Flores stated that the tribe is using grants, funds from past conservation efforts, and other money to make repairs affordable.Flores stated that if we had all the money in the world to cover all the canals running through our reservation, it would be a huge project. It is unlikely that this will happen in our lifetime.The tribe is comprised of four distinct Native American groups, Chemehuevi Mohave Hopi, Hopi, and Navajo. More than 110 miles (177 km) of Colorado River shoreline are included in the reservation. It also includes some of the most valuable and oldest rights to the river in Arizona and California.Although most of the water is used for farming, some of it goes to wildlife preserves and tribe culture.Flores stated that we must not forget the spiritual and cultural aspects of the Colorado River tribes. Our songs, plants songs, river, and other traditional rituals that take place at the river.Because it lacks the infrastructure, the tribe cannot take full advantage its right to divert 662,000 acres per year from Colorado River on Arizona's side. It also holds water rights in California.According to a 2018 study, 46 square miles (121 km) more land could be used for agriculture if the tribe has the infrastructure.Flores stated that one day. This is the goal of my leaders, who have gotten behind me, to use all our water allocations and develop our lands which aren't being developed right now.___Fonseca is a member the The Associated Press race-ethnicity team. Follow her Twitter account at