Ten Tribes

River Stakeholders

From the 2023 Annual Report – View Full Report Here ⟶

The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes Partnership (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 (CRIT), Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Quechan Indian Tribe and Cocopah Indian Tribe. These 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, 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.

Water rights for the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, CRIT, 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.

In 2022, Arizona Senators Kelly and Sinema introduced S. 3308, the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act and it was heard by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Chairman Grijalva included a modified version of the legislation as Title III of the Wildfire Protection and Drought Relief Act as passed by the House. As of this writing, the CRIT legislation is being reconciled between the two houses of Congress with hopes for passage this year.

During 2022, CRIT is completing the third and final year of a multi-year system conservation agreement entered as part of the Arizona mitigation program for the Drought Contingency Plan. This program is funded with appropriated funds from the State of Arizona and by NGO and corporate partners. The 55,000 acre-feet per year left in Lake Mead required the fallowing of approximately 11,000 acres of productive farm land on the Reservation in Arizona.

The Tribal Council approved a Diversion Management Plan in 2022 to guide the water diversions and deliveries by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The CRIT also received a Reclamation Water & Science grant to work toward an integrated water ordering system among the CRIT farmers, the BIA and Reclamation. Both the DMP and the improved process for water orders should increase the efficiency of the water ordering and delivery process at CRIT.

In cooperation with the Central Arizona Project and the private company N-Drip, CRIT expanded the acreage and the types of crops using the N-Drip system as part of a pilot study to determine the effectiveness of the N-Drip system over multiple years of use.

Leadership and staff of the CRIT continue to participate in and serve on committees and councils in Arizona that are addressing the hydrologic conditions in the basin.

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 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 Southern Ute Indian Tribe has been implementing rehabilitation efforts on the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project (PRIIP). Southern Ute received $500,000 in grant funding from the Bureau of Reclamation to construct a long- Crested weir on the Ute Creek Lateral of the PRIIP in order to address a drought vulnerability. Southern Ute’s Water Use Option Team began meeting in 2023 in order to learn about the Tribe’s water resources, with the long-term goal of developing options to use the Tribe’s water resources. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also has not resolved its water rights in the states of New Mexico and Utah.

Since the creation of The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Water Resource Committee (WRC) in 2021, the primary goals of the WRC were to create a Water Resource Department and develop a strategic plan for the management, protection and development of the Tribe’s water rights and water resources. The first goal, to establish a Water Resources Department, was completed in the Spring of 2023 with the hiring of a Water Resource Director with an additional Technician position to be filled by November. This accomplishment couldn’t have been met without the financial assistance from the Walton Family Foundation, New Venture Fund, and the Nature Conservancy. 2023 also provided a full water supply for the 7,700 acre Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise (FRE). The FRE was able to return to production 80% of the fallowed acres from the drought in 2021. Bureau of Reclamation provided much needed drought relief funding to cover expenses to treat the 6,000 fallowed acres that were returned to production. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe have been active participants in the Colorado legislature created Drought Task Force addressing drought in the Colorado River Basin and Sub Task Force studying tribal matters in the latter half of 2023.

The 1992 Jicarilla Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act resolved future use water rights claims of the Jicarilla Apache Nation 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 its settlement water to support residential communities, endangered species, and resource development. In 2022, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and The Nature Conservancy entered into an innovative water transaction that allows the State of New Mexico to lease up to 20,000 acre- feet of water from the Jicarilla Apache Nation each year to benefit threatened and endangered fish and wildlife and provide water security for communities. In 2023, 20,000 acre-feet of water was ordered and released pursuant to this transaction. This project demonstrates how tribal and state governments and conservation organizations can work together to find collaborative solutions that benefit multiple interests and users. The Jicarilla Apache Nation, along with the Navajo Nation, is also 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’s reservation in late 2023 or early 2024.

In 2009, Congress ratified the Navajo Nation – New Mexico Water Rights Settlement Agreement for the San Juan River Basin. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11) authorized the construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project (NGWSP). On June 8, 2023, Senators Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich introduced S. 1898, a bill to amend the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act (P.L. 111-11), also known as the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project Amendments Act of 2023. This bill is needed to authorize additional time and resources to complete the project and for its long-term, sustainable operations, and maintenance.

More than 30% of Navajo families haul water to meet their daily water needs. The NGWSP began providing a clean, reliable drinking water supply to meet the current and future population needs of approximately 250,000 residents of Northwest New Mexico and Northeast Arizona. There are two laterals, the San Juan Lateral and the Cutter Lateral. The Cutter Lateral has been providing water for the past couple of years to eight Navajo communities serving several thousand Navajo residents on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation. Parts of the San Juan Lateral are still under construction.

The NGWSP currently has four active construction contracts. On March 23, 2023, BOR awarded a $66,772,172 contract to SJ Louis Construction of Rockville, MN for construction of Block 4a & 4b, which will consist of 17.9 miles of pipeline construction. The anticipated completion date is October 2025. On Sept. 23, 2022, Reclamation awarded a $73,056,845 contract to Archer Western Construction of Phoenix, AZ, to construct the Tsé Da’azkání Pumping Plant and Tó Ałts’íísí Pumping Plant on the San Juan Lateral. In December 2021, Reclamation awarded a contract for $76,113,868 to SJ Louis Construction of Rockville, MN, for the construction of the Navajo Code Talkers Sublateral. The work will be located along New Mexico Highway 264, between Yah-Ta-Hey, NM and Window Rock, AZ, and will consist of the installation of approximately 17 miles of 24- to 30-inch diameter pipe and one water storage tank. Work under this contract began in January 2022 with a completion date of fall 2024. The construction of the Tooh Haltsooi Pumping Plant near Sheep Springs, NM, and Bahastl’ah Pumping Plant near Twin Lakes, NM are ongoing. Contractor Archer Western began construction in January 2021 with a completion date of spring 2024.

The Financial Assistance Agreements with Reclamation allowed the Navajo Nation to construct portions of the NGWSP. For example, the Cutter Lateral was completed in 2020, with historic water deliveries in October 2020 and full water deliveries by summer 2023. The BBN9 Sublateral is in final design and is scheduled to start construction in fall 2023.

The Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act is included as Section 1102 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260), approved by Congress on Dec. 21, 2020, and signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, 2020. The Navajo Utah Water Rights Implementation Team is working on required tasks before implementation of water projects. The Navajo Nation is actively working to secure its water rights in other basins within the states of Arizona and New Mexico.

In 2023, the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe implemented the second year of a seasonal fallowing pilot project in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District. The Tribe also continues to conduct a system optimization review to identify opportunities for efficiency improvements and other water conservation measures on the Indian Unit of the Yuma Project Reservation Division, which is located on the Tribe’s Reservation. The Tribe also anticipates entering into a system conservation agreement with Reclamation and the Metropolitan Water District to contribute water to protect elevations in Lake Mead.

Among the Partnership’s key goals are ensuring that, within the next decade, each Partnership tribe: has been able to successfully settle or otherwise resolve its reserved water rights claims; 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; 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 is fully supported by the United States’ exercise of its trust responsibilities to protect the tribes’ water rights in all of its management.

The Ten Tribes Partnership has developed and approved the following principles to guide its work on river policy going forward:

As indigenous people, we are closely connected to the land and natural resources and take seriously our obligation to protect and defend the Colorado River, as well as the plants, animals, people and ecosystems that rely on the river.

Continued drought has created extreme uncertainty for users of Colorado River water and concerns about the health of the river itself.

Insufficient water availability will have drastic consequences for our tribes, who rely heavily on the river for commercial, domestic, cultural and spiritual purposes.

Collectively, the Ten Tribes hold rights to more than 20% of the Colorado River’s current estimated flow, and tribal water, therefore, plays an important role in supply and demand.

The Ten Tribes must be included in a meaningful way in shaping river policy going forward.

Part of this policy must be an acknowledgment of the extent of tribal water rights, a recognition of tribes’ rights to use that water, and a commitment to assist tribes in benefitting from those water rights.

It is time to stop thinking about tribal water rights as a problem to be solved and start thinking about tribes and tribal water rights as integral to solving the basin’s problems.

For the Ten Tribes, compensated forbearance, offreservation marketing, and protection of future rights to on-reservation development, will be necessary components of any future river management system.

We must acknowledge that the water supply in the Colorado River was overestimated to start with and is shrinking year by year.

We must take steps to address supply/demand imbalances while protecting tribal water rights, the river, the reservoirs, and the plants, fish, birds and other species that depend on the river system for survival.