Canal systems on the Gila River

SAN CARLOS — In a letter dated Nov. 1, San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler said a proposal to use the Emery Pipeline to move Gila River water onto the reservation “would be a win for the GVID (Gila Valley Irrigation District) and a loss for the tribe.”

Rambler addressed the letter to the three mayors in Graham County — Safford’s Jason Kouts, Thatcher’s Bob Rivera and Pima’s C.B. Fletcher.

At issue are rights to water in the Gila River, and the Gila Valley Irrigation District-constructed Emery Pipeline to deliver water to the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

However, while Rambler said the proposal appears “well intended,” it does not adhere to the Globe Equity No. 59 Decree, which details Gila River water allocation.

“Over the last several decades, the Upper Valley water users have developed methods to avoid the limitations of the decree. They have developed a comprehensive system of production wells in violation and disregard of the federal law of the decree,” Rambler wrote.

He also claims that users to the east of the reservation have created divisions of the water “in violation of the decree” via the San Jose and Brown canals.

“Under this practice, the entire visible flow of the Gila River, except during periods of extreme flood, is diverted at the head of Safford Valley. The water users then deliver all of the visible surface flow of the river to their fields through the system of interconnected canals. In addition, the irrigation districts, the canal companies and the individual water users divert all water desirable for their farming operation from wells in violation of the decree,” Rambler wrote.

The Globe Equity No. 59 Decree was the result of the lawsuit The United States (acting as trustee for the San Carlos Apache and Gila River Indian tribes) vs. Gila Valley Irrigation District and entered June 29, 1935. According to Arizona Department of Water Resources, the decree covers “all diversions of the mainstem of the Gila River from confluence with the Salt River to the headwaters in New Mexico, including the Gila River and San Carlos Apache reservations, and non-Indian landowners below and above Coolidge Dam. It awarded rights to use water on lands within the Gila River Indian Reservation with a priority date of ‘time immemorial’ and also awarded rights to the San Carlos Apache Tribe with a priority date of 1846. Rights and priority dates were established for non-Indian land in the San Carlos Project area including the Safford Valley, the Duncan Valley and the Winkelman Valley (Pearce, 2002).”

Rambler acknowledged that the San Carlos Apache Tribe did not agree to the decree or the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004.

“In periods of low flow, the Gila River, as it enters our reservation, is toxic and hazardous, unsuitable for human and animal consumption, unsuitable for human body contact and makes any fish (that) are able to survive in such conditions unsuitable for human consumption as well,” Rambler wrote. “The Gila River is heavily laden with salts, pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals as a result of the capture and reuse of the underground waters of the Gila River by agricultural wells. It also carries the residue of mining and industrial processes, and is inadequately treated sewage into our reservation (and) to the San Carlos River.”

Rambler said the tribe records nearly $250 million in annual revenue from a number of sources, and tribal members spend about $150 million annually on goods and services in Safford, Thatcher, Pima, Globe, Miami and Claypool.

“Despite our contribution to the region’s economy, we view the pumping in the Upper Valley of the underground waters of the Gila River with fear and alarm because water is very lifeblood of our people, now and in the future,” Rambler wrote.

“After Veterans Day, if you (Kouts, Rivera and Fletcher) would like to meet with our council, I would be glad to arrange that,” he continued. “I think there is great value in understanding our point of view, as we should understand yours. Equally important, such a meeting would be an opportunity for us to share with you the very substantial contributions that our tribe has made to our region’s economy, and we can discuss how we may work together to provide more opportunities and jobs for the entire region.”

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