At a time of increased concerns about drought and western water levels, the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) Tribal Council has announced that it has approved an agreement with the Lower Colorado Region of the Bureau of Reclamation to fallow land on the Reservation and make conserved water available for storage in Lake Mead.
The Agreement provides an economic benefit to the Tribes and establishes the feasibility of making first priority tribal water available for other uses within the Colorado River system.
“We are pleased to make this contribution back to the River,” said CRIT Tribal Chairman Dennis Patch. “We are hopeful that this Pilot Program will pave the way for greater economic return to the Tribes so that we can improve the efficiency of our irrigation project and maintain our agriculture lands while using even less water.”
In 2014 the Department of the Interior and the major water users in the Lower Basin—Metropolitan Water District in California, the Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Denver Water—created a pilot program to fund short-term projects to evaluate the effectiveness of different conservation efforts. This is the first agreement under this program involving a tribe with decreed water rights on the main stem of the Colorado River.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes have the first priority water right in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River dating from the establishment of their reservation in 1865. The Tribes have the right to divert 662,402 acre-feet per year for use in Arizona and 56,846 acre-feet per year for use in California.
“Despite the limited water supply in the West, population growth is expected to surge in the coming years,” said CRIT Vice-Chairman Keith Moses. “We hope that this successful partnership demonstrates the important role of Tribal Governments in restoring the health of our ecosystems and water supplies. We look forward to working more with state and regional leaders to realize long-term water sustainability for all.”
The System Conservation Agreement that was signed by the Tribes and the Bureau of Reclamation calls for CRIT to receive payments to fallow 1,591 acres for one year, with options for a second and third if the program receives additional funding. This amounts to approximately 2% of the currently irrigated land and about 1% of the irrigable acreage on the Reservation.
While this is the first agreement to fallow land within the Arizona portion of the reservation, it is not the first time CRIT has entered into an agreement to fallow land for the purpose of water conservation. CRIT has been fallowing reservation land within the Palo Verde Irrigation District for about ten years.
Fallowing of the land will not only benefit the water system on the Colorado River, but the land will also receive an overdue rest needed to restore its vitality.