PINAL COUNTY, AZ — For generations, the Gila River ran mostly under the Gila River Indian Community. Now, along one small stretch of desert, it glistens in the sun marking the site of a newly constructed aquifer recharge system which allows the community to capture groundwater, store it for later use, and most importantly lessen the Gila's reliance on Colorado River water.
The conservation project is considered an important part of Arizona's drought contingency plan.
"With the Bureau of Reclamation, we were able to use federal funds to build and expand this facility and put in a major new groundwater well field nearby that expands our ability to pump the water we need here on our reservation," Gila Indian River Community Governor Stephen Lewis said.
The Gila Community agreed to transfer 500-thousand acre-feet of water to Arizona through 2026. The transfer replaces the Colorado River water Arizona loses as part of the Drought Contingency Plan. A significant amount of that water will go to Pinal County farmers.
Over the last seven years, Pinal became the fastest growing county in Arizona. Its population increased by almost 15 percent.
Communities like Casa Grande rely mainly on groundwater. So while the Gila Community celebrates its increased access to it, residents are beginning to lament their reliance on it.
Arizona's Department of Water Resources is now telling developers in Pinal County they can't rely solely on groundwater for future projects.
"There have been 15 projects that have been notified by letter their model does not support a 100 year water supply," said Jim Robinette, who has been selling real estate in Pinal County for 30 years.
One of those projects, according to Robinette, is the residential development tied to the Tesla Motors project south of Casa Grande.
Robinette says stakeholders are working with municipal, county, tribal and state government officials to come up with a plan that can balance both growth and farming in Pinal County.
While attending the event on the Gila River Indian Community Governor Ducey is confident both can exist.
Governor told reporters, "There will always be more to do on the water in Arizona. I think we can look and see that we use less water in Arizona today than we did in 1957."