Tensions emerge as a top Arizona official discusses tribes’ unresolved water claims — The #Arizona Republic

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

Many of Arizona’s Native tribes have long-standing claims to water rights that haven’t yet been settled, and a discussion of efforts to negotiate possible agreements took center stage at a meeting of Gov. Doug Ducey’s water council.

The meeting grew tense after Arizona’s top water official gave a presentation on the status of tribes’ unresolved water claims, and then didn’t allow leaders of four tribes to speak.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said he sent letters a week ago to all 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona inviting them to speak about the issue at upcoming meetings later this year.

That stance drew criticism from Arizona House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and sharply worded letters from the leaders of four tribal nations, which laid out grievances about how state officials have been treating their water cases.

Tom Buschatzke.

Buschatzke gave a presentation [March 13, 2020] for the meeting reviewing the history of federal and state law regarding water for Indian reservations, the amounts of water that some tribes have obtained through congressionally approved settlements, and the status of 11 tribes’ outstanding water rights claims.

Buschatzke said it’s important to clarify Indian water rights claims because “unresolved claims create significant uncertainty for water users in our state.” Each tribe has priority water rights based on the date its reservation was established, he said, and may be entitled to large amounts of water.

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