Native American water rights bill passes House

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last Wednesday, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.) voted in favor of H.R. 4783, the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, which passed the House of Representatives with provisions establishing the federal government's obligation to make drinking water available to Native American tribes and pueblos.

Napolitano is chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee and led efforts to strengthen the Native American water rights provisions in the bill. The legislation fulfills a commitment the United States made to these tribes when reservations were established.

Napolitano stated, "Titles 3 through 6 settle the water rights claims for seven tribes and pueblos in the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Montana. In the case of the five New Mexico pueblos, this legislation would end a combined total of 84 years of protracted, divisive and expensive litigation. Most of these settlements involve either the rehabilitation of facilities or the design and construction of much needed drinking water systems."

She added, "This legislation is fully paid for. Having an offset for the entire cost of this legislation allows for project construction to start earlier and stay on schedule, ultimately saving taxpayers millions of dollars ... that are subject to inflation increases. In the case of White Mountain Apache and the Miner Flat Project, it is estimated that these savings are as much as $7 million annually."

Napolitano noted that the scarcity of water in the West and a long-running effort to meet the needs of the tribal communities has required compromise and development of trust, particularly since the tribes have negotiated in good faith and ultimately have settled for a water right that is far less than what their initial claims asserted in litigation with the United States.

She continued, "When this Nation established reservations, we did so with a commitment to supply the tribes with water. The beauty of these four settlements is that the tribal, federal, state and local stakeholders all see the benefit as not just for the tribal members, but for the communities and regions as a whole. All four settlements have received bipartisan support and have been considered and debated by the House ... Title 7 of this legislation provides initial funding to the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund, established in Public Law 111-11. The initial funding will go towards the design, planning and construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. This project will bring water to the Navajo Nation and their non-Indian neighbors."

Napolitano concluded, "I think it is time that we provide the infrastructure for [tribes] so that they don't have to wait for a truck ... to bring water to their homes. Water - a basic human right - should be provided to all of our citizens. It is time we step up to our commitments. It is time that we give these settlements their full support, and provide water certainty and more importantly, a water future to the tribes and their neighbors."

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