Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ) yesterday introduced S. 2503, the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act. The bill would codify agreements that would settle water-right dispute in the Bill Williams River Watershed, providing certainty to both Indian and non-Indian water users. Today, Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 4924), cosponsored by the entire Arizona delegation.
“I am pleased to join Senator McCain in introducing this legislation to settle water rights disputes in the Bill Williams River Watershed,” said Flake. “Not only will this agreement help the Hualapai Tribe, it will enable further economic opportunities throughout the State. I look forward to working with my colleagues and all interested stakeholders as this bill begins moving through the legislative process.”
“This bill is a winner for the State of Arizona, the Hualapai Tribe, and Freeport,” said McCain. “It would ensure that the Bagdad Mine can continue using its existing water supply while putting the Hualapai on the path of finally having their water needs addressed by the federal government. Congress must act quickly on this bill or risk losing the land and water conservation benefits provided for the Bill Williams River under this agreement.”
Background: Freeport Minerals Corporation owns and operates a copper mine and townsite in Bagdad, Ariz. The water for that operation comes from a series of wells along the Big Sandy River (a tributary of the Bill Williams River) in what is known as the Wikieup Wellfield.
Because the Hualapai tribe also owns parcels in the area that could be impacted by Freeport’s pumping, the United States, on the tribe’s behalf, objected to Freeport’s applications to transfer water rights from Planet and Lincoln ranches to the Wikieup Wellfield.
As part of this settlement, Freeport will agree to cap its use of water from the Wikieup Wellfield and recognize the reserved rights of the tribe and allottees on nearby parcels. The tribe and the United States on behalf of the tribe and the allottees further agree to waive claims and drop their objections to Freeport’s severance and transfer request. Finally, Freeport will transfer portions of Planet Ranch for use in the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.