WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior celebrated significant progress by the 117th Congress to advance settlements of Indian water rights claims and to protect tribal sovereignty, key priorities for the federal government’s efforts to uphold its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal communities.
“Water is a sacred resource, and access to water is fundamental to human existence and economic development,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Tribal water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of communities. The Biden-Harris administration was proud to support these bills, and I am grateful to the bill sponsors and committee leaders for making progress in Congress to ensure that tribes are finally getting the water resources they have long been promised.”
Indian water rights settlements help ensure that tribal nations have safe, reliable water supplies; improve environmental and health concerns on reservations; and enable economic growth. These settlements have the potential to end decades of controversy and contention among tribal nations and neighboring communities and promote cooperation in the management of water resources. Indian water rights settlements also promote community and economic development for regions surrounding tribal communities, as conflicts are resolved and vital infrastructure is developed. At the Department of Interior, the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office manages, negotiates, and oversees implementation of Indian water rights claims and is committed to continuing to work with tribes across the West as they seek to realize their long-promised water rights.
As part of the 117th Congress’ closing activity, one settlement was enacted, another settlement was amended, and another bill affecting tribal water rights was enacted. This includes:
S. 4104, the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022: The Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022 settles the tribe’s water rights claims in Arizona and is the result of over a decade of dedicated, good-faith negotiations among the tribe, the federal government, the State of Arizona, and other parties. The bill approves a settlement agreement that will provide much needed water to the tribe and establishes a trust fund of $312 million that the tribe can use to develop water infrastructure on its reservation. The act’s provisions will help provide certainty to the tribe and to surrounding communities regarding access to water resources, enable tribal economic growth, and promote tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency.
S. 3168, an Act to amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2010 to modify the enforceability date for certain provisions, and for other purposes: This act amends the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s 2010 settlement, which settled the tribe’s water rights claims in Arizona. That act authorized the design and construction of a rural water system to address the dire need for a domestic water supply on the tribe’s reservation. Working closely with experts at the Bureau of Reclamation, the tribe identified critical changes to the infrastructure design along with the need for additional funding to complete the project. This amendment provides the additional $530 million needed to complete construction of the rural water system.
S. 3308, the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act of 2022: The Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act of 2022 authorizes the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease, exchange, store, or conserve portions of their decreed water rights located in the State of Arizona to off-reservation users. This act – the product of many years of diligent negotiations among the tribe, the state, and non-Indian water users – reflects the federal government’s commitment to tribal self-determination and tribal sovereignty.
These new laws supplement the significant resources provided for in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides more than $13 billion directly in tribal communities across the country and makes tribal communities eligible for billions more in much-needed investment. That includes $2.5 billion to implement the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, which will help deliver long-promised water resources to tribes, certainty to all their non-Indian neighbors, and a solid foundation for future economic development for entire communities dependent on common water resources.