CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, December 1, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 4924, the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014, as amended, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 4924 was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) on June 20, 2014 and was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill was marked up on November 19, 2014 and was ordered reported, as amended, by unanimous consent.
H.R. 4924 authorizes, ratifies, and confirms two settlement agreements affecting the Bill Williams River Water Basin—the Big Sandy River-Planet Ranch Settlement Agreement and the Hualapai Tribe Settlement Agreement—and directs the Secretary of the Interior to execute the agreements. The bill provides for the lease of land located within Planet Ranch on the Bill Williams River in the State of Arizona to benefit the Lower Colorado River Multi‐Species Conservation Program, and provides for the settlement of specific water rights claims in the Bill Williams River watershed.
According to the Department of the Interior, “The Hualapai Tribe’s main Reservation of approximately 1 million acres is located on the south side of the Colorado River and includes Grand Canyon lands. . . . In addition to its main Reservation, the Tribe has a smaller Executive Order Reservation of approximately 60 acres along the Big Sandy River, located in the Bill Williams River basin.”
“The Hualapai Tribe claims water rights in the Colorado, Verde, and Bill Williams River basins. Negotiations regarding potential settlement of the water rights claims of the Hualapai Tribe in Arizona have been ongoing since 2011, when the United States established a negotiating team to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of all of the Tribe’s water rights within the State of Arizona. One matter addressed in the negotiations has concerned applications filed in 2010 by [Freeport Minerals Corporation] to sever and transfer certain water rights in the Bill Williams River basin for the benefit of mining operations . . . . The Department of the Interior protested those applications to protect federally reserved water rights, including water rights that the Department holds in trust for the Hualapai Tribe and rights associated with lands held by the Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).”
“H.R. 4924 would approve two agreements in which, among other things, [Freeport Minerals Corporation] agrees to confirm the Tribe’s water rights claims related to the small Executive Order Reservation. Initially, the Tribe’s primary objective was to negotiate a comprehensive settlement for both its main Reservation and its smaller Executive Order Reservation. Early in the negotiations, however, serious technical issues were identified with respect to water infrastructure projects proposed for the main Hualapai Reservation that required the investigation of additional alternatives before the Tribe’s water rights in the Colorado River basin could be resolved. At the same time, the Hualapai Tribe, Freeport, and the United States decided that negotiations over certain time sensitive issues related to Freeport’s sever-and-transfer application should proceed.”
“As a result, the originally contemplated comprehensive settlement was split into two phases. The first phase, which is the subject of H.R 4924, focuses on resolution of certain water rights issues in the Bill Williams River basin involving the Tribe, the Department of the Interior, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and Freeport. It is expected that future negotiations, to which all the parties, including Freeport, have committed, will address additional water rights of the non-tribal parties in the Bill Williams River basin, as well as a comprehensive settlement of all the Tribe’s water rights claims for its main Reservation.”
 Testimony of Michael Black, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power on H.R. 4924, the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014 (Sep. 19, 2014).
A CBO cost estimate is not available at this time.
For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.