Gila River Indian Tribe back in favor of Colorado River drought plan

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona tribe says it is back in favor of a drought plan for the Colorado River after receiving assurances that legislation it opposes will not become law.

The announcement by Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis clears a significant hurdle for the plan to conserve water from the drought-starved river that supplies 40 million people in the U.S. West.

Lewis said tribal leaders met last week with key lawmakers and are now satisfied that the legislation is dead. The tribe plays a central role in the drought plan, but Lewis said earlier this month that it would back out if lawmakers moved forward with a bill he says would undermine its rights to water from the Gila River.

“This was an unfortunate chapter in this historic effort, but we will now do all we can to put this in the rear view mirror, and move forward together,” Lewis said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers had pushed to alter the state’s five-year “use it or lose it” water rights law, which he said was necessary to protect farmers in eastern Arizona whose livelihood is threatened because they fallowed their fields at some point in the past.

Lewis said the legislation was a slap in the face to the tribe. He said tribal officials were comfortable rejoining the drought plan after meeting with Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, Rep. Charlene Fernandez of Yuma, the top Democrat in the House, and Sen. Lisa Otondo, also a Yuma Democrat.

Arizona still is working to get support for more than a dozen agreements needed to implement its commitments under the seven-state drought plan.

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