Patient As Water

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Water can carry away mountains — given enough time. Maybe that’s why working out Rim Country’s water future has required such patience and persistence.

We have reported often enough on the 20-year effort to secure a stable, long-term water supply for Rim Country through the partnership between Payson and the Salt River Project. As partners, they have secured rights to water in the Blue Ridge Reservoir and then come up with the daunting stack of cash need to upgrade the pipeline atop the Rim and then build a new 17-mile-long pipeline from Washington Park to Payson.

In today’s edition, we reveal another struggle that has required almost as much patience and vision — the effort to win for the Tonto Apache Tribe the water rights taken from them in the course of a century of conflict and oppression.

Payson has partnered with the Tonto Apache Tribe to help negotiate a settlement with the federal government to obtain water rights to secure the future of the 300-acre reservation on the edge of Payson.

The Tonto Apache have a fascinating and difficult history. They have lived here for centuries and struggled with courage and persistence to hold onto their ancestral land. After decades of warfare and a sad succession of betrayals and broken trust, then finally won their reservation.

But it required decades of effort for many tribes to gain control of the water rights on which their future depends. The federal government settled many of the claims of other tribes with water from the Central Arizona Project. The complicated formulas from those settlements allocated 128 acre-feet to the Tonto Apache — but the tribe had no way to claim that water until Payson struck its deal with the Salt River Project to bring 3,500 acre-feet from Blue Ridge to Rim Country.

The proposed settlement would involve a multi-million-dollar payment from the federal government to the tribe, which the tribe would turn over to Payson to help pay the costs of building the $52 million pipeline. The casino and other Tonto Apache efforts already play a crucial role in Rim Country’s economy. The secure water right will help the tribe continue to develop economically at the gateway to Payson.

Of course, things could snag and drag, given the number of agencies involved and the complexity of western water settlements.

But this gush of good news down the rocky face of an intractable problem gives us a freshet of hope. Given enough good will and patience, even the mountains of history and bureaucracy must finally yield.

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