Members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes will vote Saturday, Jan. 19 on a proposed ordinance to allow for the lease of a portion of the Tribes’ Colorado River water allocation to outside interests.
The ballot will present the following statement to Tribal members:
“A ‘Yes’ vote shall ALLOW Tribal Council to approve the transfer of a limited portion of CRIT’s Decreed Allocation of water off the Reservation thereby creating additional revenue to be used to increase tribal member distribution payments, as well as provide for vital programs and projects.”
“A ‘No’ vote shall RESTRICT the ability of Tribal Council to approve the transfer and used of any water off the Reservation.”
A final public hearing for Tribal members on the ordinance will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 17 in Irataba Hall in the Tribal office complex.
Tribal polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 19.
The Tribes’ allotment comes to 662,000 acre feet per year. That’s more than double the State of Nevada’s allotment of 300,000 acre feet. According to an article on azcentral.com, Tribes’ allotment comes to one-half of what the Central Arizona Project sends to Phoenix and Tucson, and the Tribes receive 24 percent of the State of Arizona’s allotment. It’s estimated they could provide 150,000 acre feet per year for off-reservation uses.
It’s also “safe” water in that the Tribes have first priority in the event of shortages.
The issue of leasing Tribal water rights has become a contentious issue among Tribal members. Opponents claim this compromises the Tribes’ resources, while supporters point to the economic benefits.
In January 2018, two Tribal members, Tim Stevens-Welsh and Amber Van Fleet, took out recall petitions against Chairman Dennis Patch and all the members of the Tribal Council over efforts of the Tribal leadership, including Patch, to lease some of the Tribes’ annual water allotment to outside interests.
Stevens-Welsh and Van Fleet claim water is CRIT’s greatest resource, and discussions regarding leasing the water were done in secret and without the knowledge or consent of Tribal members. They said the Tribal leadership should be looking at how to use their extra water for development locally. They also alleged Patch had acted “behind the backs” of Tribal members, and that the lease of water was a violation of the Tribal Constitution.
Stevens-Welsh and Van Fleet also stated that water is the most precious resource of the Mohave people, and it should be protected.
In published reports, including a statement sent to Tribal members in September 2017, Patch said leasing CRIT’s water would be a benefit to communities around Arizona. He added the funds received from leasing water would be used for economic development on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, most notably to repair the rundown system of irrigation canals operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He said the needs of the Tribes, including environmental protection, would be an important part of any agreement.
Patch was recalled by just two votes at the April 28, 2018 recall election. However, he was restored to the Chairmanship in a special election held July 7. Council Member Valerie Welsh-Tahbo was also recalled April 28. Tommy Drennan was elected to the open seat at the July election.
Steven-Welsh and Van Fleet was unsuccessful candidates for the Tribal Council in the CRIT regular election held Dec. 1.