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Congress considers bill to ratify long-awaited water settlement for Hualapai Tribe

The Colorado River at Diamond Creek, on Hualapai land
Melissa Sevigny
The Colorado River at Diamond Creek, on Hualapai land

A bill under consideration by Congress would ratify the water rights of the Hualapai Tribe in Arizona. If passed, it would give the tribe access to four thousand acre-feet of water annually; and also fund a pipeline to communities and the Skywalk in Grand Canyon West. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with tribal chairman Damon Clarke about the importance of the long-awaited agreement.

Can you tell me why this act is needed by the Hualapai Tribe?

We do not have much water availability of the Colorado River, even though it runs right through our backyard; 108 miles of our reservation borders it, and we don’t get one drop from it.

So without the water from the Colorado River, the tribe is completely dependent on groundwater?

Yeah… and because it’s the only source of water, we’re very vulnerable to short-term interruptions, and also the long-term water decline of the drought, it’s pretty vulnerable, because we don’t have a recharge happening without sufficient snowfall, and recapturing water.

And tell me about the importance of getting water to Grand Canyon West? That’s a major income for your community, right?

Well, it’s a major income, but it also employs a lot of people off the reservation too in Mojave County, Lake Havasu, Bullhead, and also Las Vegas. At one time we employed more than 1,500 workers… It also attracts the tourism, and when we have more than 800,000 people, up to a million people, come, we need water there. A few years ago, let’s say 40 years ago, we actually envisioned a community out there. At this time that’s kind of stopped—it has stopped—because we don’t have the infrastructure there, we don’t have the water, the sewer, as well as the electricity, so we’re working on that as well.

Arizona’s taking cuts to Colorado River supply this year because of drought, are you concerned that even if the bill passes, this water might not be available to you?

We’re firmed a certain amount of water. During that time, the firming of it, which is going to be legislative action, is going to give us the water.

Firmed—can you explain what that means?

It means we’re going to get that water; 1,100 acre feet per year.

Tell me how things will change if this bill passes and you’re able to build the pipeline. What is that going to do for the community?

Obviously, it’s meant for future use… In any event, we’re looking at the future of our children, and our grandchildren, and grandchildren’s children…. You know, it’s a matter of just getting the pipeline up here and getting our water from the Colorado River. Because the Colorado River is very sacred to us. It is important because we’ve come from the Colorado River in our, I guess our creation. To not have that coming up to us is really a devasting type of situation. It’s finally coming to our people.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Chairman Clarke.

Thank you.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.