The reservation of the Walapai Indians borders the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, but so far the indigenous people have been unable to draw water from it. According to NTD, overuse, drought and climate change are causing the river to continue to run shallow. The tribes want access to water legislated and infrastructure put in place, but a pipeline could take years to build.

The Walapai Indians’ reservation borders the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. But until now, indigenous people have been unable to take water from it.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the reservation in northwestern Arizona. It is the main source of income for the tribes. But they don’t yet have a formal agreement that would provide access to the river.

HEATHER TANANA, historian: In 1922, when the Colorado Agreement, that very important document governing the management of the river, was signed, no tribe participated in the agreement.

Because of overuse, drought and climate change, the river continues to shallow. Now the tribals want to be given access to water by legislation and infrastructure too. However, a pipeline could take years to establish.

PHIL WIZLEY, Indigenous People’s Representative: Our goal is to get money to build infrastructure. We are not the only canyon tribe that has not reached an agreement to settle water rights. Other tribes in the canyon are facing exactly the same problem.

To get water from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you have to build a pipeline over 1,200 metres high. This would be very expensive.

Meanwhile, the Colorado River can no longer supply the 40 million western US residents who relied on it for water. Nor can it feed the $15 billion agricultural industry.

Unlike other users, tribes do not lose access to water if they do not use it. Under a 1908 Supreme Court ruling, they have the right to use as much water as they need to sustain their communities. However, they often give up their rights in exchange for federal funding to build infrastructure.

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