Bush Signs Bill Ending Decades Old Water Dispute

Dec. 13, 2004

President Bush signed legislation Friday settling a 30-year-old fight over how much Colorado River water is distributed to several Indian tribes in Arizona and New Mexico.

The legislation involves the Central Arizona Project's 336-mile canal system, that divides the river's water among cities and other users in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

Under the new legislation, the tribes can lease their water shares back to cities for a profit but they cannot sell the water to other states.

In addition, the bill resolves a dispute between Arizona and the federal government over how much the state should repay on the costs of building the CAP aqueduct. The state's payments would go into a federal fund to build distribution systems for Indian water and other costs authorized under the law.

The Senate passed the bill on Oct. 10, and the House passed it on Nov. 18.

The Gila River Indian Community south of Phoenix, which has litigated its water claims since 1974, would receive more water from the aqueduct, as would the Tohono O'odham Nation west of Tucson.

Other tribes still have unresolved claims, but the bill was written to help accomodate future settlements.

The cities welcomed the distribution to the tribes because, saying it will allow them to expand and firm up water supplies for their growing populations.

The Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the state agency that operates the CAP, has said the settlement may allow for a property tax cut in some counties.

Source: The Associated Press