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Udall-sponsored bill would provide certainty to water users

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined Committee Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in leading a business meeting to consider two bills, including the Udall-sponsored Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act.  Both bills passed the committee by voice vote.

“Indian water rights settlements are simply good policy,” said Udall.  “They allow communities to avoid time-consuming, expensive, and divisive litigation and provide certainty by resolving long-standing claims.  My bill, S. 886, will secure a predictable, reliable funding source for future Indian water rights settlements so stakeholders can better plan for the future.”

At the business meeting, Udall introduced an amendment that makes several important revisions to S. 886.  Specifically, it limits the duration of the Settlement Fund extension to an additional 10 years, maintains the existing priority list for the initial 10 years, establishes a $90 million dollar cap on the amount of annual allocations any individual settlement can receive during the additional 10 years, and allows the Aamodt Litigation Settlement and Arizona Tribes to utilize unused portions of the existing priority list.

The following Tribes, stakeholder associations, and water districts have expressed their support for S. 886:

Tribes

  • Navajo Nation
  • Hualapai Tribe
  • Tohono O’odham
  • Ute Tribe
  • Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • The Confederation of Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation (CSKT)
  • Yavapai-Apache Nation

Associations

  • Western States Water Council
  • Native American Rights Fund
  • National Congress of American Indians
  • All Pueblo Council of Governors
  • Family Farm Alliance
  • Association of California Water Agencies
  • California Association of Sanitation Agencies
  • Inter Tribal Association of Arizona

Water Districts

  • Salt River Project
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Truckee-Carson Irrigation District

Below is the full text of Udall’s opening statement.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for scheduling today’s business meeting.  I support the bills on the agenda and urge my colleagues to vote to advance both measures. 

My bill, S. 886, will secure a predictable, reliable funding source for future Indian water rights settlements.  For those under negotiation. For those that are near enactment, but have not identified a funding source.  

Indian water rights settlements are simply good policy.  They allow communities to avoid time consuming, expensive, and divisive litigation.  And provide certainty by resolving long-standing claims so stakeholders can better plan for the future.

Take the Navajo-Utah settlement, which is currently subject to Congressional approval.  More than 40 percent of Navajo households in Utah lack running water or adequate sanitation in their homes.  Many in this community are forced to haul water, from a single spigot, miles from any residence.  This is simply unacceptable.   

Specifically, S. 886 will alleviate pressure on the Bureau of Reclamation’s discretionary budget by ensuring that settlements like Navajo-Utah are eligible for the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund.

New Mexicans and western water users know that, every year, more and more of Reclamation’s budget is dedicated to Indian water rights settlements resulting in less funding for other priorities.  

That is why the Western States Water Council, Family Farm Alliance, Association of California Water Agencies, Salt River Project, and Metropolitan Water District all support my bill.  

Speaking of western water users, Congress recently authorized the Drought Contingency Plan.

Many of you around this dais recognized this was a critical step Congress needed to take to protect the economy, environment, and health of the Southwest.

But the DCP would not have not been possible without the help of Indian tribes, and their willingness to voluntarily reduce the use of their water rights.   

DCP is proof that when a crisis arises, we have the capacity to come together to find solution.  By “we”, I am talking about Indian and non-Indian water users.  I am also talking about Congress.  When it comes to western drought, “we” are in this together.

Turning back to S. 886, I want to thank Chairman Hoeven and my Committee colleagues, Senators McSally, Moran, Tester, Cortez Masto, and Daines, for working with me to improve the bill.  We worked hard to find the right balance.  Some wanted more in the bill.  Some less.  But that is the nature of compromise.

My substitute amendment makes several important revisions to S. 886.  It limits the duration of the Settlement Fund extension to an additional 10 years.  It establishes a $90 million dollar cap on the amount of annual allocations any individual settlement can receive during those 10 years.  And it will allow Arizona Tribes to utilize unused portions of the Arizona priority.

The bill will also allow the Aamodt Litigation Settlement to have sufficient resources to reach completion.  And it will bring the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas a step closer to authorizing its settlement agreement. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I urge swift approval of S. 886 as amended and S. 2071.

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