A unique partnership between the Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Project is slowly bringing the Gila River back to the community.

The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) has fought for nearly 80 years to restore its water rights and rebuild its agricultural economy. In 2004 Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which gave the community rights to up to 311,800 acre-feet of Central Arizona Project water in Arizona, but the community’s irrigation infrastructure will not be fully built until 2029. In order to use their water rights to the fullest GRIC, has turned to Salt River Project (SRP) to figure out a way to restore wetlands and the riverside habitat that has always been important to their culture.

“The Community’s motto is ‘where water flows, life grows’ and it captures the importance of the Gila River to the community not only in terms of agricultural development, but also its cultural and religious significance,” said Gregory Mendoza, the community’s governor, in a statement. “For the Akimel O’otham, which means the ‘River People,’ the Salt and Gila Rivers were part of our identity, so when the river was diverted, we were not only harmed economically but culturally and religiously as well.”

SRP’s expertise in riparian recharge and water storage will help the community re-create part of the Gila River and create long-term storage credits that the community can use and sell to help finance future water-related goals. SRP will exchange its expertise for access to a portion of the community’s water supply.

“Our work with the Gila River Community to help develop the Arizona Water Settlements Act laid the groundwork for this important partnership,” said John Sullivan, SRP’s chief resources executive, in a statement. “Through that process, we came to better understand the importance to the community of restoring the Gila River. The partnership will not only help the community achieve its objectives, it will make available vital water supplies for growing Valley communities and for SRP water users during periods of severe drought.”

According to a statement from SRP, GRIC will use some long-term storage credits itself and will sell a portion of them to create a stream of revenue for the development, operation and maintenance of the riverside recharge areas, the community’s on-reservation canal system, and other water-related activities.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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