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Audio from Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on water

Workers install a pipeline in New Mexico as part of a water rights settlement with the Navajo Nation. Photo from Bureau of Reclamation

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing this afternoon on tribal water rights.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the committee, chastised the Obama administration for failing to submit written testimony on time. He said the Interior Department has been late for two hearings in a row and three so far this year.

"This lateness is unacceptable," Barrasso said. "It is disrespectful to this committee and to the Senate, as well as disrespectful to other witnesses, and a complete disregard for the importance of the issue ahead of us today."

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Oversight Hearing on Addressing the Needs of Native Communities Through Indian Water Rights Settlements

Michael Connor, the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, acknowledged the complaint. But unlike Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who held himself personally responsible for the lateness at a hearing in March, he didn't offer an explanation for the latest delay.

"I will go back and work on that issue," Connor told Barrasso.

The hearing otherwise was non-controversial. Committee members and witnesses stressed the need for tribal, state and federal parties to work together in order to provide stability, improve infrastructure and spur growth on and off reservations.

"Today, Indian water settlements are critical in the face of the ongoing drought in the West," said Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

Six water rights settlements have been finalized since President Barack Obama came on board in January 2009, DOI said in a press release in February. According to the Secretary's Indian Water Rights Office, the administration is working on 38 potential settlements across the western U.S.

Connor, though, said 18 settlements are in active negotiations. Several could be finalized and be presented to Congress this year, he told the committee.

Members of the committee are pushing to settle the water rights of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. S.1125, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act, was introduced late last month.

The hearing lasted about 1 hour and 19 minutes. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Committee Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Addressing the Needs of Native Communities Through Indian Water Rights Settlements" (May 20, 2015)

Related Stories:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets hearing on water rights (5/19)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sets two more hearings (5/18)

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