Colorado River Forum Brings Together Tribal Leaders to Discuss Drought Concerns, Protect Water Right

Emma Hughes

Gila River Indian News


On Oct. 28 and 29, The Colorado River Basin Tribal Coalition met for their first in-person meeting for a two-day work session at the Grand Sheraton Resort.


Earlier this year, fourteen tribal leaders including Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, launched The Colorado River Basin Tribal Coalition, initially named the “Tribal Leaders Forum”, to share information and interest on the advancement of water rights and management of the Colorado River.


Some of those tribes include the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Tohono O’odham Nation, Hopi Tribe, Cocopah Indian Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Paiute Indian Tribe, Fort Yuma Quechan and Chemehuevi Indian Tribe.


The Colorado River is over 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S states and into Mexico, including 29 federally recognized tribes. 


It is the primary source of water for more than 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5milllion acres of agriculture lands. The river is divided into the Upper and Lower Basins as a result of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.


In August, The Department of Interior declared the first ever water shortage for the Colorado River due to low water elevation in the lower basin, Lake Mead, which serves parts of Arizona, Nevada, California, southwestern Utah, and western New Mexico. 


“We should be involved in water management decisions to support sustainable actions that preserve and efficiently use the shared resources of the Colorado River Basin,” said Gov. Lewis.


The impetus of the meeting allowed tribal leaders and representative a chance to better understand shared interests and concerns and how best to determine a solution and framework. Updates on the upper and lower basin were also provided. 


Lt. Gov. Monica Antone, along with District 5 Council Representatives, Wahlean Riggs and Brian Davis Sr., were also present for the discussion, sharing some of their concerns about the impact of the shortage on agriculture, which has already experienced some adversity.


The shortage declaration probes water cutbacks in the coming year that will mostly affect Arizona farmers and has also brought into discussion a second Drought Contingency Plan to address the crisis.


Tribal, federal agencies and stake holders throughout the basin continue to work together on finding new and creative ways to reduce the effects of the drought.