SRP - GRIC Partnership to Restore River
The Gila River Indian Community’s long-held dream of restoring portions of the Gila River may soon become a reality. The Community’s nearly 80-year-long struggle to restore its water rights finally ended in 2004 with passage of the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Under that legislation the Community is entitled to up to 311,800 acre-feet of Central Arizona Project water per year, making it the largest single customer of CAP water in Arizona.
The CAP water is key to restoring the Community’s selfsufficient agricultural economy but the Community’s irrigation infrastructure will not be fully built out until 2029, and in the interim, it is not physically able to use its full CAP entitlement. However, this water could be used to restore wetlands and the riparian habitat that is so important to the culture of Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh.
The Community turned to SRP for its expertise in riparian recharge and water storage. That expertise will help the Community recreate a part of the Gila River, while at the same time creating long-term storage credits that it can use and sell, if appropriate, to help finance future riparian recharge activities.
“The Community’s motto is ‘where water flows, life grows’” said Gregory Mendoza, the Community’s Governor. “For the Akimel O’otham, which means the ‘River People,’ the Salt and Gila Rivers were part of our identity, so when the river was diverted, we were not only harmed economically, but culturally and religiously as well.” Governor Mendoza believes that this partnership with SRP marks a new chapter in Arizona’s water history. “We used to be on the opposite sides of the table when it came to water, but now we are partners,” said Governor Mendoza.
This sentiment is echoed by SRP. John Sullivan, SRP’s Chief Resources Executive, noted that the process of working with the Community on the Arizona Water Settlement led to understanding of the importance they place on restoring the Gila River. “The partnership not only will help the Community achieve its objectives, it will make available vital water supplies for growing Valley communities and for SRP water users during periods of severe drought” he said.
The agreement with SRP provides needed expertise in exchange for access to a portion of the Community’s water supply for certain projects and in short supply years.