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. Specifically, the Partnership intended to assist member tribes to develop and protect tribal water resources and to address 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 in hopes of actively participating with the seven Basin States in negotiations relating to the Colorado River.
The water rights for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, 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 the present perfected rights as of the date the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed. Water rights of the five Indian reservations were included in those present perfected rights and entitled to priority based on the establishment date of each reservation and dates of boundary adjustments thereto.
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, based on the establishment date of the Uintah Valley Reservation, pursuant to 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 a certain extent through various settlements. However, not all of the water rights have been resolved.
The 1988 Colorado Ute Settlement Act, amended by the 2000 amendments and the 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 1992 Jicarilla Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act represents a full and final settlement of the future use water rights claims of the Jicarilla Apache Nation to the water of the Colorado River.
In 2009, Congress approved the Navajo Nation’s settlement of its San Juan River water rights that it reached with the State of New Mexico and the United States. The Navajo Nation continues to work towards resolving its water rights in other New Mexico water basins, including the Rio San Jose Basin and the Zuni River Basin. The Navajo Nation also negotiated a water rights settlement with the State of Utah and the United States to settle its water rights in Utah. Currently, the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act is pending before Congress. In Arizona, the Navajo Nation is litigating its water rights in the Little Colorado River Adjudication. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also has not resolved its water rights in the states of New Mexico and Utah.
With combined annual water rights in the Upper and Lower Basin of about 20% of the mainstream flow, the Partnership’s mission is to ensure that, within the next decade: (1) each tribe has settled or otherwise resolved its reserved water rights claims; (2) each tribe has the ability to maximize its on-reservation use of water and the flexibility to explore, facilitate and implement offreservation use and transfers; (3) each tribe benefits from water infrastructure projects promised or obtained through settlements or negotiations with state and federal governments and partners in a timely fashion; and (4) the federal government firmly asserts and exercises its trust responsibility to protect the tribes’ reserved water rights in all of its management actions related to the Colorado River.