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Tribal water rights approved as 117th Congress leaves the building

WASHINGTON — As part of the 117th Congress’ closing activity, the 117th Congress advanced settlements of Indian water rights claims Jan. 4.

“Water is a sacred resource, and access to water is fundamental to human existence and economic development. Tribal water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of communities,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “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 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.

One settlement was enacted, another was amended and another bill affecting tribal water rights was enacted.

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.

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 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.

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.

The 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.

Information provided by Department of the Interior

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