Water flows out of Glen Canyon Dam in Page. Photo by Jeff Topping | Getty Images
Several tribal nations will start seeing some funding as part of their water rights settlements, as the U.S. Department of the Interior has allocated nearly $580 million to start fulfilling Indian water rights claims.
“Water is a sacred resource, and water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety, and empowerment of Tribal communities,” Secretary Deb Haaland said. “Through this funding, the Interior Department will continue to uphold our trust responsibilities and ensure that Tribal communities receive the water resources they have long been promised.”
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Five tribes in Arizona will receive more than $306 million in funding from the settlement: the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation.
The money will help each tribe develop infrastructure projects that will fulfill the terms of their water rights settlements.
“I am grateful that Tribes, some of whom have been waiting for this funding for decades, are finally getting the resources they are owed with the help of this crucial funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Haaland said.
Part of the funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, where nearly $460 million will be applied to settlements enacted before Nov. 15, 2021.
An additional $120 million has been allocated from the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund, a fund created by Congress in 2009 that receives $120 million in mandatory funding annually from 2020 through 2029.
Together, both funds allocated nearly $580 million to fulfill 14 tribal water settlement claims from 12 tribal nations.
“The federal government’s trust responsibility to Native communities includes providing Tribes with access to clean, reliable water,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Schatz said the Department of Interior’s funding announcement shows leaders following through on the work legislatures did to” pass and fund Indian water rights settlements to ensure water security for Tribes and surrounding communities.”
There are 34 congressionally enacted Indian Water Rights settlements as of Nov. 15, 2021, when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed, which included $2.5 billion to implement the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund.
The Department of Interior stated that it will help deliver long-promised water resources to Tribes, certainty to all their non-Native neighbors, and a solid foundation for future economic development for entire communities dependent on common water resources.
“As a champion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the House, I’m excited to see this significant investment in Arizona’s Tribal communities,” U.S. Rep. Ruban Gallego said in a statement.
Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat, said that Arizona is experiencing the devastating impacts of a 1,200-year drought, but the funding will go a long way to help secure Arizona’s water which ensures a sustainable water future and follows through on tribal water settlements.
Indian reserved water rights are vested property rights for which the United States has a trust responsibility, according to the department. The federal policy supports the resolution of disputes regarding Indian water rights through negotiated settlements.
For Arizona, this funding supports five specific settlements:
- $22,000,000: Ak-Chin Indian Water Rights Settlement Operations, Maintenance & Replacement
- $18,225,000: AZ Water Settlements Act Implementation – San Carlos Irrigation Project Rehabilitation
- $79,000,000: Gila River Indian Community – Pima Maricopa Irrigation Project
- $1,500,000: San Carlos Apache Tribe Distribution System
- $8,000,000: So. Arizona Water Rights Settlement – Farm Extension
The Navajo Nation is included in these settlements, and their funding will support projects they have established in the New Mexico and Utah portions of their tribal land. The settlements include:
- $2,000,000: Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Operations, Maintenance & Replacement
- $137,000,000: Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project
- $39,114,000: Navajo-Utah Water Settlement
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