Bureau of Reclamation emphasizes tribal water rights settlements

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

Tribal water rights are a big component of the fiscal year 2017 budget request for the Bureau of Reclamation.

In a sign of the importance of the issue, the agency is proposing to establish a new Indian Water Rights Settlements account. It would be funded with $106.2 million if Congress approves the request.

"This administration has put a high priority on settling Indian water rights claims as part of its trust relationship with the tribes," a budget document released on Tuesday states.

The $106.2 million request breaks down as follows:
• $6.4 million for the Aamodt water settlement for four Pueblo tribes in northern New Mexico.
• $12.8 million for the Crow Tribe of Montana.
• $87.0 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, a component of a settlement between the Navajo Nation and New Mexico.

Additionally, the President Barack Obama is seeking $25.1 million to continue water settlement programs for the Ak-Chin Indian Community of Arizona, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, along with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Tribe, both in Colorado. That brings the water rights request to $131.2 million.

Former Interior secretary Ken Salazar, seated, finalized the Aamodt water rights settlement for four Pueblo tribes in New Mexico in March 2013. Photo from Facebook

Elsewhere in the budget, tribes would benefit from the rural water projects account. The $31.8 million request includes funding for the Fort Peck Reservation / Dry Prairie Rural Water System in Montana (Fort Peck Tribes), the Mni Wiconi Project in South Dakota (Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe) and the Rocky Boy's / North Central Montana Rural Water System (Chippewa Cree Tribe).

When funding for other accounts like $10.5 million for the Native American Affairs Program are added up, the Obama administration said Indian Country will see $217 million at the Bureau of Reclamation.

"The 2017 Reclamation budget supports the Strengthening Tribal Nations initiative through endangered species recovery, rural water, and water rights settlements programs," the document reads.

The House Appropriations Committee will hear more about the request at a budget hearing on Thursday.

FY2017 Interior Department Budget Documents:
Budget in Brief | Strengthening Tribal Nations and Insular Communities | Bureau of Reclamation | Budget Justification | DOI Fact Sheet

Committee Notice:
Budget Hearing - Bureau of Reclamation (February 11, 2016)

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