Department of the Interior

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For Immediate Release:
December 22, 2005
Dan DuBray, 202-208-6415
or Pamela Williams, 202-208-1442

Interior Secretary Norton Signs Landmark Arizona Water Rights Settlements

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has signed major water rights agreements authorized by the Arizona Water Settlements Act, an important step toward resolving critical water issues facing the state and its Indian tribes.

On Dec. 21, 2005, Norton signed the Gila River Indian Community Water Rights Settlement Agreement which confirms the Community's claim to 653,500 acre-feet of water annually, provides federal funding for water development projects, assures rights to use existing water delivery systems, and adds protections for the Community's groundwater supplies.

The Secretary also signed the New Mexico Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement. Negotiated among Arizona parties and the federal government, the agreement allows for a water exchange so that New Mexico may obtain water from the Gila River if it decides to build a water storage and diversion structure in New Mexico.

Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, several other agreements are to be implemented, including the Southern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement, which resolves water rights claims of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Work on that and other settlement agreements continues.

"These agreements are the beginning of a comprehensive arrangement that will allow all groups served by the Central Arizona Project -- tribes, cities and farmers -- to share equitably in the benefits of the project for decades to come," Norton said. "These settlements help to reduce conflict and bring a new era of certainty for water users throughout the Colorado River region."

Norton thanked Sens. Jon Kyl, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and Rep. J.D. Hayworth for their efforts on the Arizona Water Settlements Act and commitment to resolving these issues.

The Gila River Indian Community's claims are among the largest Indian water rights claims in the West and have contributed to uncertainty over future water availability for Arizona cities, towns, utilities, industry, and agriculture.

Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, Norton was required to execute the agreements if they did not conflict with the Act. Attorneys from the Departments of the Interior and Justice worked closely with settlement parties during the past year to identify and rectify any conflicts and inconsistencies between the Act and the agreements.

The Act, which President Bush signed on Dec. 10, 2004, was the result of more than a decade of negotiations among representatives of the federal government, the states of Arizona and New Mexico, local governments, the Gila River Indian Community, the Tohono O'odham Nation and other Native American communities in the region.

"A comprehensive approach is the right way to resolve longstanding disputes regarding the use of the Central Arizona Project and this portion of Arizona's allocation from the Colorado River," Norton said "These parties have worked together to solve problems cooperatively rather than through decades of litigation. I salute their accomplishment."