A Chance to Focus Inward

Ugly urban sprawl's the problem, not drought. Metro Phoenix has water to support 10 million souls

The central component of the bill awards 653,500 acre-feet of water to the Gila Indian River Community to settle water-rights claims dating back a century. The Gila Indians and other tribes are expected to use some of this water for agriculture and community development. But they will also be leasing copious quantities back to growth-crazed cities.

The water deals the tribes cut with cities and developers will make Indian gaming revenue look like chump change.

"It will provide an enormous change in their fortunes," Babbitt says. "For the first time, the Indians are really getting a very fair and generous share."

Phoenix is restoring five miles of the Salt River with its Rio Salado project.
City of Phoenix
Phoenix is restoring five miles of the Salt River with its Rio Salado project.

I have only one request of the Gila Indians:

Put a small portion of the tribe's vast water resources back into the barren Gila River bed that cuts through the reservation south of South Mountain. Simply retiring 5,000 acres of a low-value crop like alfalfa will free up 25,000 acre-feet of water, enough to fuel a healthy, year-round stream and riparian habitat.

Perhaps our civic and business leaders would then see how much people love a flowing river, and it would encourage them to release an adequate amount into the Salt to re-create a sliver of that long-lost riparian splendor.

Nothing would do more to improve the overall quality of life in Phoenix than returning marginal flows to the Salt. This could turn our astounding growth inward -- that is, lure residents downtown instead of encouraging them to live in endless outlying suburbia. It would also be a financial windfall to the city's oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

Let the river flow!

E-mail john.dougherty@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8445.

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