Saturday, April 8, 2017

Abundant Water Rights and Little Demand: Non-Indian Investment

According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Tohono O’odham Nation is projected to have stagnant water demand growth through 2030. The State of Arizona, specifically through the central and southern regions, is projected to be the fastest growing state in population growth due to the influx of baby-boomer retirees. Meanwhile, the Tohono O’odham Nation holds water rights per capita well in excessive of other Indian and non-Indian municipalities.

Although the tribe currently has rights to an incredible oversupply, the financing for infrastructure development (canals, pumps, storage, etc.) is non-existent. The lack of infrastructure is reflected in the ADWR’s projections for agricultural and industrial water demand on the reservation. With poor infrastructure and no capital to change it, the water will not be put to use, leaving only meager municipal growth to drive demand. However, Winters Rights allow the reservation to maintain those water rights even when not used “beneficially”. How could this be a windfall?

I believe that water intensive industries, specifically agriculture and power, could be drawn to the reservation for their abundant and protected supply. With water supply strains outside of the reservation, municipal demand will be the priority allocation of water above both agriculture and industrial demand. With water access being threatened off of the reservation, would the Tohono O’odham Nation be willing to open its doors to private and independent industry operating on their lands? Besides the obvious economic benefits of jobs and taxable corporate income, would the reservation benefit from the infrastructural projects those private projects would half to invest in? If those private water infrastructure projects allow for better access away from the CAP region, what’s to lose?

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