Indian water giveaway

  Daniel Kraker’s assertion in "The New Water Czars" that Indian tribes lease their water for more than $1,000 an acre-foot is inaccurate (HCN, 3/15/04: The New Water Czars). Yes, Del Webb Corporation leased 10,000 acre-feet of water from the Ak-Chin for $12 million — but it was a one-time, up-front payment for 100 years’ worth of water. Phoenix and three other cities will lease 41,000 acre-feet of water from the Gila River Indian Community for a one-time, up-front payment that likely will be $1,800 or more per acre-foot — but that lease, too, will be for 100 years.

Because these leases are for 100 years, it is cheap water. Del Webb, for example, is actually paying $12 per acre-foot per year. If Phoenix and the other cities pay $1,800 per acre-foot, the cost per year for each acre-foot will be $18 — cheap, inexpensive water by any measure. (It should be noted, however, that Del Webb, Phoenix, and other users who lease water for Indian tribes must pay additional "delivery" charges to the Central Arizona Project for that water. In the case of Del Webb, that’s about $74 per acre-foot.)

The real issue, however, is not what the cities pay for the water, but whether anyone — Indian tribe or otherwise — should be given quantities of water for which there is no legitimate need. Historically, neither the Ak-Chin nor the Gila River Indian communities ever used the quantities of water which they have been awarded by U.S. secretaries of the Interior and by unknowing U.S. Congresses.

If the federal government succeeds in taking another couple of hundred thousand acre-feet of Arizona’s Colorado River water supply for Indians, 13 tribes with little more than 1 percent of the year 2000 population will control 51.66 percent of the state’s main surface water supply.

These tribes currently control 44 percent of the supply, which amounts to 76 gallons of water for each resident of these reservations, compared to one gallon each for every other resident in Arizona. If the federal government succeeds, this disproportionate distribution will increase to 103 gallons to one.

By any measure, that is unjust. If it were the other way around, the Indians would scream bloody murder, and rightly so.

Earl Zarbin
Phoenix, Arizona

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