Published March 28, 2019
Help Tribes Meet Longstanding Demand for Guaranteed Water Access
WASHINGTON Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced the Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act today to fund water infrastructure projects in tribal communities.
“In the West and in Indian Country, these settlements play a critical role in communities’ long-term economic sustainability. This legislation will provide predictable and reliable funding for current and future Indian water rights settlements, curtailing the use of securing water rights through costly litigation, while protecting the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget. At time when water security is threatened by climate change and droughts – the importance of providing certainty to our communities cannot be overstated,” said Udall.
Congressman Raul Grijalva
“Water is a basic necessity, and tribes shouldn’t have to fight for access to basic necessities,” Grijalva said today. “Climate change and drought are making water harder to come by across the west. This bill gives tribes the resources they need to build and improve their water systems, sustain cultural practices, improve health, welfare and agriculture, and help their economies grow. I’m grateful for Senator Udall’s partnership on this critical issue and his tireless work to improve life in Indian Country.”
Tribal water settlements involve negotiations between tribes, the federal government, states, water districts, and private water users, among others, to determine specific terms of water allocation and use. Over the last 50 years, negotiated settlements have been the preferred course for many tribes because they are often less lengthy and costly than litigation.
Vice Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Tom Udall – D – New Mexico
Even after settlements are reached, tribes often cannot immediately get water delivered to their homelands without additional steps being taken to secure federal funding for water infrastructure. The Grijalva-Udall bill offers funding necessary to implement finalized settlements.
Many tribes lack up-to-date water infrastructure, and some live without running water. This lack of infrastructure creates harmful water shortages that hamper tribal health, educational outcomes, and overall economic development.
Congress created the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund in 2009 and directed $120 million into the Fund per year from 2020 through 2029. Most of that funding has already been committed to certain water rights settlements. The Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act will extend the Fund so that additional tribal water settlements can be implemented.
The bicameral bill is widely supported by tribes and Tribal organizations.
Tribes and stakeholders expressing support for extending the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund include The National Congress of American Indians, The Native American Rights Fund, The Navajo Nation, the 20 Governors of the Sovereign Pueblo Nations of New Mexico and Texas, The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, The Fort Belknap Indian Community, The Hualapai Tribe of Arizona, The Tohono O’odham Nation, The Ute Indian Tribe, Western States Water Council, Association of California Water Agencies, California Association of Sanitation Agencies, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Salt River Project, Family Farm Alliance, and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.