MAR 5 Tour Helps Conference Attendees Learn the Story of the Gila River

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


Members from the Gila River Indian Community and Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project (P-MIP) came together to tell the story of the Gila River recently when faculty members, students and visiting attendees from the University of Arizona toured the Managed Aquifer Recharge Site 5.


The Oct. 22 tour was an extension of the U of A Water Research Review Conference that was held in August. The tour was a chance for the conference attendees to get a firsthand look at how the Community is utilizing its water rights while giving back to the Gila River through MAR 5.


“P-MIP was tasked with constructing the canal system on behalf of the Community and this fine facility, MAR 5,” said David DeJong, PMIP Director, who facilitated the tour. “I think you are all in for a real treat to see how the Community is restoring a portion of the river and restoring the underground aquifer.”


Gov. Stephen Row Lewis, who attended, explained that MAR 5 was a vision of his father, the late Rodney B. Lewis, who led the Community’s years-long water litigation and wanted to see the Community’s water rights transformed into more meaningful project.


“When MAR 5 was first conceived, we wanted to be meticulous and respectful about how [we] developed this site into what you see here today,” said Gov. Lewis. “It has become a really special place for me and for the Community. I know every one of you will feel the same from your own perspective, as you see the ‘layers’ of culture presented today.”


Gov. Lewis lauded DeJong and the P-MIP staff for their tireless work in laying the groundwork for the Community’s comprehensive water delivery system, that nearly spans the length of GRIC.


 “(DeJong) does a great job with P-MIP, which has been very successful in building out the large infrastructure of canal systems through the Community, that are essentially state-of-the art,” said Gov. Lewis.


Henrietta Lopez, a Community elder from District 4 and former Public Involvement Specialist for P-MIP, was present to talk about the MAR 5 project from her perspective.


“It’s a beautiful project that is out here in our community, that has long been awaited by our Community members.” Lopez said with the completion of MAR 5 and the interpretive trail comes the return of native vegetation that is special to the Community.


“[Here] what you see is a place where our plants that benefit us in many ways are flourishing,” she explained.


The plants at the MAR 5 interpretive trail range from Shugoi, cattail, willow to other plants of medicinal and artistic use, many of which are important materials used by O’otham basket makers.


“If you want to make baskets, you’re going to harvest with me first,” said Yolanda Elias, a Community members and basket-maker from District 6. “I do it because it teaches them how to harvest for supplies in order to learn.”


Elias gave a presentation with her basket-making materials – cattail, bear grass, yucca and devils claw – laid out in front of her. She described how every plant is essential to her artistic passion.


“Before the MAR 5 was here, it took time to get the materials I needed for my baskets, because there were few places to harvest. Now I can come here say, ‘Look it’s ready,’” said Elias. She said seeing what was once hard to come by now readily available at her fingertips is a feeling both bittersweet and emotional.


Others who presented at MAR 5 were Kristina Morago, P-MIP Public Involvement Specialist, and Sam Rector, a Wildlife Biologist with the GRIC Department of Environmental Quality.