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Recommendation 3: Resolve conflicts over Indian water rights

Problem

In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes may reserve water for future use in an amount necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation. Furthermore, these rights date back to original treaties, giving them priority over the rights of other users. Nontribal rights, on the other hand, are typically based on the “first in time, first in right” doctrine. Conflicts between tribal and nontribal rights have resulted in ongoing litigation, especially as water supplies in the West become increasingly scarce.

Unfortunately, until Indian water claims are resolved, we cannot manage water resources effectively because we cannot quantify them. As a result, future allocations and management decisions are difficult and often conflicted.

Goal

To resolve Indian claims to water rights based on prior appropriations as an alternative to expensive litigation.

Recommendation

Inventory the status of Indian claims to water rights and identify priorities for resolution based on timely opportunities to further tribal, federal, and local goals.