Establishing tribal water rights often is a crucial step in building the capacity of tribes to develop economically and to build vibrant homelands. The Indian Resources Section asserts water rights claims for the benefit of tribes in water adjudications throughout the western United States. During the past few years, the Section, working with tribes, has settled or achieved entry of a final decree of such claims in a number of major water rights adjudications. These settlements recognize and protect the water rights of tribes and often provide much-needed resources for tribes to develop and use those rights.
Examples of recent settlements include:
- In re Snake River Basin Adjudication (Idaho) – The Indian Resources Section worked with the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Idaho, and water users to craft an historic settlement of the Tribes’ water rights claim. Congress ratified this settlement in the Snake River Water Rights Act. The Section, in conjunction with the other parties to the settlement, successfully defended the settlement against challenges. In 2007, the Idaho courts approved the entry of the settlement.
- General Adjudication of All Rights of Water Use in the Little Colorado River System and Source (Ariz.) – After years of negotiations – which included participation by representatives of the United States, the Zuni Indian Tribe, Arizona, and neighboring non-Indian communities in the Little Colorado River Basin – the parties entered into a settlement agreement, approved by Congress, to resolve all of the Zuni Indian Tribe’s water rights claims in the Little Colorado Basin. The court issued the final judgment and decree approving the Settlement Agreement which became effective in December 2006.
- United States v. Washington Department of Ecology (Lummi) (W.D. Wash.) – The Indian Resources Section, working with the Lummi Nation, the State of Washington, and private water users, crafted an historic settlement of an important water rights lawsuit involving groundwater underlying the Lummi Reservation.
- Adjudication of Montana Water Rights (Mont.) – The Indian Resources Section prevailed before the Montana Water Court overcoming the last objections to entry of the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Compact on the Rocky Boy's Reservation, a settlement negotiated by the United States, the State of Montana, and the Tribe, and subsequently ratified by Congress.
- In Re Warm Springs Tribe Water Negotiations (D. Ore.) – The Indian Resources Section successfully argued for entry of a settlement of the water rights of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, concluding 15 years of litigation.