March 22, 2021
The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes Partnership, is an organization formed in 1992 by 10 federally recognized tribes with reserved water rights in the Colorado River Basin. The member tribes are: Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Quechan Indian Tribe and Cocopah Indian Tribe.
The 10 member tribes formed the Partnership for the purpose of strengthening tribal influence among the seven Basin States over the management and utilization of Colorado River water resources. The Partnership assists member tribes in the development and protection of tribal water resources and addresses technical, legal, economic and practical issues related to the management and operation of the Colorado River. The Partnership formally joined the Colorado River Water Users Association in 1996 with the goal of actively participating with the seven Basin States in negotiations relating to the Colorado River. In 2018, the Partnership tribes, along with Reclamation, completed the Tribal Water Study, which included information regarding each Partnership tribe’s water rights, current water uses, future demands and likely impacts to the system of future development of tribal water. As documented in the Tribal Water Study, Partnership tribes collectively have water rights in the Upper and Lower Basin to roughly 20% of the mainstream flow.
The water rights for the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, the Quechan Indian Tribe and the Cocopah Indian Tribe, whose reservations are located on the lower reaches of the mainstream of the Colorado River, were decreed in Arizona v. California, 574 U.S. 150 (2006). In that case, the Supreme Court found that the Secretary of the Interior had a statutory duty to respect existing present perfected rights as of the date the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed. Water rights of the five Indian reservations are among those present perfected rights and are entitled to priority based on the establishment date of each reservation and dates of boundary adjustments thereto.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) has become a recognized leader in the Lower Basin for on-River extraordinary conservation measures. In 2020, the Tribes fallowed more than 10,000 acres of productive agricultural lands on the Reservation in Arizona as a part of the intra-Arizona Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), resulting in 50,000 acre-feet of new system conservation for Lake Mead. CRIT continues to work closely with the funders of this project—ADWR, NGOs and Corporate Partners. In addition, CRIT is making investments on-reservation. The Tribes are testing low-pressure drip irrigation systems in cooperation with Central Arizona Project, modifying crop patterns and using tribal and Reclamation WaterSMART funds to install additional measuring devices in the BIA irrigation Project.
A portion of the Ute Indian Tribe’s reserved water rights was decreed in United States v. Cedarview Irrigation Company et al., No. 4427 (D. Utah 1923), and United States v. Dry Gulch Irrigation Company, et al., No. 4418 (D. Utah 1923), with a senior priority date of 1861, the establishment date of the Uintah Valley Reservation, pursuant to the reserved water rights doctrine first articulated in Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564 (1908). In 1965, the United States, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, the State of Utah (by joint resolution of the Legislature) and the Ute Indian Tribe agreed to the quantification of the rest of the Tribe’s reserved water rights by contractual agreement. In March 2018, the Tribe commenced litigation against the United States for the mismanagement, misappropriation and diminishment of the Tribe’s reserved water rights and related resources. The Tribe is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages, to compensate the Tribe for past harms, including mismanagement of the Uintah Indian Irrigation Project.
The water rights for the four remaining Partnership tribes have been determined to various extents through settlementagreements.However,notallofthetribes’water rights claims have been resolved or finally quantified. The 1988 Colorado Ute Settlement Act, as amended by 2000 amendments and Colorado state court consent decrees, quantified the water rights of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in the state of Colorado. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also has not resolved its water rights in the states of New Mexico and Utah.
The 1992 Jicarilla Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act resolved the future use water rights claims of the Jicarilla Apache Nation to the water in the Colorado River system. Since 1992, the Jicarilla Apache Nation has been actively engaged in efforts to put this water to use. The Jicarilla Apache Nation currently subleases a portion of the water to support residential communities, endangered species, and resource development. The Jicarilla Apache Nation, along with the Navajo Nation, is a project participant for the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project, which will deliver treated drinking water to the southern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in 2021.
In 2009, Congress ratified the Navajo Nation San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Water Rights Settlement Agreement. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11) authorized construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project (NGWSP). More than 30% of Navajo families haul water to meet their daily water needs. The NGWSP will provide a clean, reliable drinking water supply to meet the future population needs of approximately 250,000 residents of northwest New Mexico and northeast Arizona. Two laterals are being built to serve the Navajo communities: the San Juan Lateral and the Cutter Lateral. The Department of the Interior recently awarded an $83.7 million construction contract for a portion of the San Juan Lateral pipeline to be built from Little Water to Naschitti, New Mexico. This portion of the pipeline should be completed by January 2022. In addition, DOI also awarded $45.9 million to construct the Tooh Haltsooi Pumping Plant (Pumping Plant Number 4) near the community of Sheep Springs, New Mexico and Bahastl’ah Pumping Plant (Pumping Plant Number 7) near the communities of Twin Lakes and Coyote Canyon, New Mexico. The Navajo Nation has Financial Assistance Agreements with the Reclamation in place that allow the Nation to construct portions of the project. With this effort, the construction of the Cutter Lateral will be substantially completed in 2020, with initial water deliveries in fall of 2020 and fully delivering water by the summer of 2021. The Congressionally mandated deadline for completion of the NGWSP is December 2024. The Navajo Nation-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act is pending before Congress. The Navajo Nation is actively working to secure its water rights in other basins within the States of Arizona and New Mexico.
Among the Partnership’s key goals are ensuring that, within the next decade, each Partnership tribe: (1) has been able to successfully settle or otherwise resolve its reserved water rights claims; (2) has the ability to maximize its on-reservation use of water as well as the flexibility to explore, facilitate and implement off-reservation use and transfers; (3) can benefit from water infrastructure projects promised or obtained through settlements or negotiations with state and federal governments and other partners in a timely fashion; and (4) is fully supported by the United States’ exercise of its trust responsibilities to protect the tribes’ water rights in all of its management actions related to the Colorado River.