Tue, Feb. 18

Yavapai Apache water rights settlement talks stall

CAMP VERDE - There is a saying among the Yavapai-Apache people that "As long as the river flows, life will be good."

The Verde River is culturally significant with both tribes that make up the single nation, and both consider the river's health a measure of their interaction with the larger world in which they live.

But attempts so settle their surface water rights claims, some of which they have said they would use to ensure the river's future, are not going so good.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation announced this month that settlement talks are at an impasse over a pivotal piece of the agreement, with one of the "primary" parties in the settlement.

"The nation's water team was committed to obtaining a water settlement during the 2012 Congressional session," Tribal Chairman David Quail stated in the tribal newspaper Gah'Nah vah/Ya Ti this month

"However, the terms that were presented to the team by the negotiating parties left the Nation, as well as the United States, no choice but to reevaluate and take a different tact at how to proceed from here."

The U.S., government is a negotiating partner with the Nation because the government holds their reservation lands in trust.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation began pressing for a settlement about three years ago.

The nation has been in negotiations and consultation with stakeholders since then, focusing on settling their claims as expeditiously as possible.

Details of those talks are confidential.

As with all the other Indian tribes around the state, the Yavapai-Apache Nation is a party in the statewide adjudication case.

But unlike the other parties in the case, Indian tribes have the ability to settle their claims independent of the other litigants. That was the case in recent years with Gila River Indian Community and the Fort McDowell Indian Community.

Because Sen. Jon Kyl has helped usher those and other Indian water rights through Congress, the Nation had hoped to finalize their settlement before he leaves office at the end of 2012.

The Supreme Court first established Indian water rights through the Winters Doctrine, which stated that when the government settled tribes on reservations they also reserved enough surface water to adequately irrigate agricultural lands on the reservation.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation is among a handful of Arizona tribes that have yet to settle their water rights claims. The Yavapai Prescott tribe settled theirs in 1995.

"The Nation is committed to protecting the Verde River and obtaining a fair and equitable water rights settlement for its people," tribal elder Mary Sine stated in the tribal newspaper article.

"Despite the current stalemate...the nation has directed the water team to continue its work to protect the Verde River and the water supplies required by the Nation to meet the needs of the Yavapai Apache people, so that life will remain good."

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