In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans assumed the land and water resources of the West were endless. Water was as vital to newcomers to Arizona’s Florence and Casa Grande valleys as it had always been to the Pima Indians, who had been successfully growing crops along the Gila River for generations when the white settlers moved in.
Diverting the Gila explores the complex web of tension, distrust, and political maneuvering to divide and divert the scarce waters of the Gila River. Residents of Florence, Casa Grande, and the Pima Reservation fought for vital access to water rights. Into this political foray stepped Arizona’s freshman congressman Carl Hayden, who not only united the farming communities but also used Pima water deprivation to the advantage of Florence-Casa Grande and Upper Gila Valley growers. The result was the federal Florence-Casa Grande Project that, as legislated, was intended to benefit Pima growers on the Gila River Indian Reservation first and foremost. As was often the case in the West, well-heeled, nontribal political interests manipulated the laws at the expense of the Indigenous community.
Diverting the Gila is the sequel to David H. DeJong’s 2009 Stealing the Gila, and it continues to tell the story of the forerunner to the San Carlos Irrigation Project and the Gila River Indian Community’s struggle to regain access to their water.