Gila River Indian Community Enters Agreement to Contribute Colorado River System Conservation Water

The Gila River Indian Community (“GRIC”) has entered into an agreement to contribute 40,000 AF of its 2017 Colorado River allocation as system contribution water. System contribution water is water that is voluntarily and permanently left in the Colorado River to stabilize water levels in Lake Mead.

Because the Colorado River is over-allocated, a structural deficit has been causing the level of Lake Mead to decline over time. Shortage declarations and the resulting cutbacks in allocation to Arizona and Nevada are governed by the 2007 Interim Guidelines. While Arizona and the City of Phoenix have been proactively planning for shortage, they are also participating in efforts to boost water levels in Lake Mead, which would forestall shortages and minimize the risk of catastrophic shortage.

GRIC received $7 million for the water, which calculates to $175/AF. The State of Arizona, City of Phoenix, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation each provided $2 million, and the Walton Family Foundation provided $1 million.

The current agreement does not address any future system conservation plans, but Arizona, Phoenix, Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation anticipate contributing additional funds toward future regional system conservation efforts. Additional water contributors and funders would be welcome to participate in future efforts.

The parties see this agreement as a model for prospective system conservation that is necessary for Arizona’s implementation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (“DCP”). The DCP, which has not yet been executed, would be effective through 2026, ending at the same time as the Interim Guidelines. Under the DCP the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California would forego water deliveries under certain circumstances, and the use of system conservation and mechanisms to incentivize temporary storage would be expanded to boost water levels in Lake Mead. (For more on the DCP, see “Failure Is Not an Option: CRWUA Keynote Panel Discusses the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 32x,” Journal of Water Winter 2017).


Written by Marta L. Weismann