Day 3: Water Leasing, Tribal Rights, Agriculture & Conservation

Parker, AZ
Powerful Water: CRIT, Leasing, and The Future of Water in Arizona

The Colorado River Indian Tribes (commonly known at CRIT, and comprised of members of the Navajo, Hopi, Mohave and Chemehuevi tribes) own rights to more than 660,000 acre-feet of Colorado River Water and are the senior rights holder in the Lower Basin. With just over 4,000 tribal members and 300,000 acres of reservation land, most of it in agricultural production, CRIT finds itself in a powerful position - with more water than they need. Currently CRIT is in conversation with the state, the governor’s office, CAP, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation about leasing more than 100,000 acre-feet of their allotment, and diverting it elsewhere in the state. CRIT sees this as a long-term boost to their economy, and some agencies see it as a solution to the ever-increasing demand for water in areas that predict ongoing development. But critics object to the secretive nature of ongoing negotiations, and the short-sightedness of encouraging development. As of now, unknowns abound: Will federal legislation legislation allows CRIT to lease their water, and if so, who gets it? How much will it cost? Will other tribes follow suit? In the meantime, CRIT is putting their water to good use. We visited a number of sites to learn about water infrastructure and agriculture on the reservation, including the The Head Gate Dam, The Aha Khav Preserve, The Scott Road Spill, and CRIT Farms.

Blythe, CA
New crop, new hope: A farm town seeks reinvention

California’s Palo Verde Valley is known for growing melons, cotton, alfalfa and vegetables. In 2005, the Palo Verde Irrigation District reached agreement with the Metropolitan Water District to fallow 35 percent of its farmland (about 26,000 acres) and allow the corresponding water to be used by cities on the coast. The fallowing didn’t just idle farmland, according to community leaders: It also gutted the farm economy, erasing jobs and depriving Blythe, the valley’s largest town, of its agricultural heritage. Now the valley is eyeing a new crop to help return Blythe to its former glory: cannabis. And even though the PVID holds California’s most senior water right and cannabis is now legal in the state, the path is anything but clear. The water needed to grow thirsty cannabis must be delivered by the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency.

Indio, CA
Saving Water in a Desert Oasis

The Coachella Valley’s water use looks a bit different from its larger neighbors: Fruit groves and golf courses make the valley a winter getaway, and resort towns need water too. Coachella gets its water from a branch of the All-American Canal, and it employs a range of conservation methods, from lined canals that prevent seepage to micro-irrigation. The district also has a long-term water exchange agreement with the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego and other coastal cities, while allowing CVWD to constantly replenish its own groundwater supplies. We toured the valley and took a look at some CVWD conservation techniques, and also heard from the Metropolitan Water District.