ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A Native American tribe has agreed to lease more of its water to help address dwindling supplies in the Colorado River Basin, officials announced Thursday.
The agreement involves the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and The Nature Conservancy.
The tribe has agreed to lease up to 6.5 billion gallons (25 billion liters) of water per year to the state to bolster flows for endangered species and increase water security for New Mexico.
The water would be released from the Navajo Reservoir in northwestern New Mexico to feed the San Juan River, which flows into the Colorado River.
New Mexico is among the seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River. Water managers elsewhere already have had to come up with contingency plans as less snow, warmer temperatures and water lost to evaporation have affected the river’s ability to meet demands.
Daryl Vigil, the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s water administrator, highlighted the need for creative solutions as pressure grows across the drought-stricken basin. He also pointed to the benefits of meaningful cooperation with Native American communities.
“This project should serve as a model for effective tribal collaboration and arms-length negotiations among sovereigns throughout the Colorado River Basin,” Vigil said in a statement.
Not all tribes in the basin have legal authority to lease water. Some tribes in Arizona already have played a significant role in shoring up water supplies as that state deals with mandatory cuts to its Colorado River allocation.
The Jicarilla Apache Nation’s water rights support the tribe’s cultural practices and economy while ensuring residents have water to drink.
The tribe subleases most of its water to other users. For several decades, that has included coal-fired power plants in the region. With the plants facing closure, officials said that presented a new opportunity for the tribe, New Mexico and the environmental group to strike a new deal.
“The Colorado River Basin’s tribal nations are among the most important leaders and partners in efforts to find lasting solutions to the pressing water scarcity and ecological challenges that face the millions of people who rely on this incredible river,” said Celene Hawkins, a tribal engagement program director for The Nature Conservancy.