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The Latest: Controversial Arizona water bill put on hold

February 19, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — The Latest on Arizona’s efforts to implement a Colorado River drought plan (all times local):

4:15 p.m.

The Arizona House speaker is putting on hold water legislation that angered the Gila River Indian Community and threatened to derail a drought plan for the Colorado River.

Republican Speaker Rusty Bowers said Tuesday that he wants to talk to lawyers and try to find a better way to protect farmers who surrendered their water rights by failing to use them for five years.

Bowers initially proposed repealing the state’s “use it or lose it” water law. Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said that would undermine his tribe’s water rights. Lewis said if the bill advances he’d have to back out of the Colorado River drought plan, in which the tribe is a key player.

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1:30 p.m.

Arizona water officials say the state won’t have all the pieces of a Colorado River drought plan wrapped up by a March 4 deadline set by the federal government.

Central Arizona Project director Ted Cooke says he expects about half of the 15 agreements to be in place by the deadline and hopes to have the rest signed within 60 days. Cooke says March 4 is an “artificial deadline” and the state is working diligently to finalize the complex agreements.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Director Brenda Burman says she’ll ask governors of the seven Colorado River states what should happen next if Arizona and California don’t finish their plans by March 4. The other states are finished.

The Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people.