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The Latest: Tribe says water bill based on misinformation

February 16, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — The Latest on a drought plan for the Colorado River (all times local):

6:45 p.m.

An attorney for the Gila River Indian Community says a powerful state lawmaker’s push to change Arizona water law is based on misinformation and the concerns of a “small number of farmers” who took water they did not have the right to use.

Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ legislation has prompted threats from the tribal community to pull out of a Colorado River drought plan. The tribe is a key player in negotiations to protect the water supply for 40 million people.

Bowers’ legislation would change Arizona’s “use it or lose it” water rights law. He says he introduced it after hearing from rural families that were “financially destroyed” by lawsuits brought by the tribe.

The Gila River attorney says Bowers’ legislation represents “an attack” on the tribe’s efforts to help in developing a drought plan.

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4:45 p.m.

The speaker of the Arizona House says he’s not backing down from his push for legislation that prompted the Gila River Indian Community to threaten to pull out of a Colorado River drought plan.

Republican Rusty Bowers of Mesa said Friday if the tribe wants to back out of the drought plan, “that is their choice.”

The tribe plays a pivotal role in Arizona’s plan to take less water from the Colorado River as part of a seven-state agreement. But Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis says the tribe won’t sign on unless it gets assurances Bowers’ bill will not advance.

Bowers’ bill would change the state’s “use it or lose it” water rights law. He says a group of rural families are being “financially destroyed” by lawsuits brought by the Gila River community.

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2:15 p.m.

A top Arizona Democrat is accusing the Republican House speaker of risking the collapse of a drought plan for the Colorado River by pushing legislation that has angered the Gila River Indian Community, a key player in the negotiations.

House Democratic leader Charlene Fernandez said Friday that Speaker Rusty Bowers is on the verge of tanking the plan and destroying the agricultural economy of central Arizona.

Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis says a bill that Bowers introduced threatens water rights the tribe gained through a landmark settlement in 2004 after a decades-long battle. Lewis says the tribe can’t sign on to the drought plan unless it gets a “reliable indication” the bill won’t move forward.

Arizona faces a March 4 deadline to get agreements from all parties, including the Gila River community.

Bowers declined to comment.