DOI Implements Landmark Indian Water Rights Settlement

The largest Indian water rights settlement in U.S. history is now fully in effect, concluding more than three decades of extraordinary effort by federal, state and tribal leaders to resolve critical water use issues facing tribal communities and the state of Arizona.

"The Arizona Water Rights Settlements Act is a triumph of cooperation and consensus over conflict and litigation," said Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, who spoke on behalf of Interior Department Secretary Kempthorne recently. "This landmark agreement offers us a model of how states, Indian tribes, cities, farmers, and the federal government – working together as neighbors and partners – can overcome deep-seated disputes with creative solutions that allow equitable benefits for all water users."

The legislation, approved by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2004, was fully implemented after Kempthorne signed two Statements of Findings on Dec. 10, 2007, finishing all actions necessary to complete the Gila River Indian Community Water Rights Settlement and amend the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 1982, involving the Tohono O’odham Nation.

"The Settlement Act provides the Gila River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation access to assured water allocations and the financial resources necessary to develop their land and water resources, expand their economies, and ensure a better quality of life for tribal members, their children, and grandchildren," Artman said. "Now that the legislation is fully and finally effective, all of the benefits promised can be delivered and these tribal water rights claims, among the largest in the West, can be put to rest."

"Secretary Kempthorne believes that one of the greatest challenges facing us as state, regional and national leaders in the 21st century is meeting the increasing and often competing water needs of our dynamic communities," Artman said. "Yet we share the conviction that there is no problem created by humans that current and future generations cannot solve, if they are equipped with the right tools."

The Arizona Water Rights Settlements Act and similar settlements and pacts across the West serve as models to other states and regions that are struggling with water shortages, especially those suffering droughts and adapting their water management to deal with long-term climate change, Artman noted.

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