Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
March 30, 2006
Contact: Shane Wolfe, 202-208-6415
or Pamela Williams, 202-208-1442

Secretary Norton Signs Water Rights Agreement for Tohono O'odham Nation

WASHINGTON -Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has signed the Southern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement, which resolves water rights claims of the San Xavier and Shuk Toak Districts of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona and allows for the full and final implementation of the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act.

Under the agreement, the two districts would receive 37,000 acre-feet annually of water from the Central Arizona Project, a federally-developed system that delivers Colorado River water to central Arizona. The U.S. Government also would provide the districts an additional 28,200 acre feet annually from any source. All the water will be provided without cost to the Tohono O'odham Nation, which additionally has received a $15 million trust fund to develop its water resources. In return, the Nation waives all future water rights claims and related damages claims within the districts.

"This agreement and other settlements authorized by the Arizona Water Rights Settlements Act will help to reduce conflict and bring a new era of certainty for water users throughout the Lower Colorado River region," Secretary Norton said. "The settlements will help cities, Native American tribes and farming communities to resolve critical water issues that have been intensified by the current drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin. These pacts are vital to continued economic growth in the state."

As originally structured, the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act, enacted in 1982, needed modifications to be fully implemented. The Act provided a general framework for a comprehensive arrangement to resolve many of the water issues facing Arizona and Indian communities in the state, allowing all groups served by the Central Arizona Project to share equitably in the benefits of the project. The agreement signed by Secretary Norton contains the modifications needed to fully implement the Act.

To cover the costs of delivering water from the Central Arizona Project to the Tohono O'odham Nation, a Cooperative Fund was established in the U.S. Treasury. The fund's initial capitalization of $10.5 million was contributed by the U.S. Government, the State of Arizona and some of the settlement parties. The Federal Government can appropriate an additional $16 million as necessary.

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

"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."

Norton also called the settlement "a testament to the tenacity and team effort over many years by dedicated Interior employees who worked closely with Sen. Kyl and his staff."

Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, Secretary Norton could execute the agreements if they do 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 shepherded through Congress by Sen. Jon Kyl. The legislation 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.

The Act centers around a negotiated settlement agreement between the United States and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District that resolves litigation concerning the myriad repayment and operational issues associated with the Central Arizona Project.