Report: Tribes and Water in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — CRRG #COriver

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Click here to read the report from the Colorado River Research Group. Here’s an excerpt:

Tribes with reservations in the Colorado River Basin currently have quantified rights to divert about 20 percent of the basin’s annual average water supply, while over a dozen others still have outstanding claims. Yet, as the Colorado River Research Group has noted before, existing uses of basin water already exceed reliable supplies, even though many tribes are not fully using the water already allocated to them. Understandably, tribes want and deserve to enjoy the full benefits of their rights. Other water users, however, are concerned about how tribal water rights and uses integrate with already existing and planned future non‐Indian uses of basin water. These competing interests have long been viewed as on a collision course. But, in fact, much progress has been made over the fifty plus years since Arizona v. California (1963) to satisfy tribal rights without displacing other existing uses. It has not been easy.

Making additional progress will also be difficult, but is an essential step forward in basin management. This reality jumped from the pages of the 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (“Basin Study”), and is being explored further in an ongoing joint study by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership, now tentatively scheduled for completion in December 2016. Given the salience of tribal rights—both to tribal and non‐Indian users—this article provides an introduction to what we currently know about tribal water rights in the basin. This article provides context for emerging policy discussions focused on providing tribes with more flexibility and opportunity in the use of their water, perhaps through voluntary transfer mechanisms such as leasing and forbearance agreements.

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