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A Retrospective View of Indian Law during the First Term of the Bush-Cheney Administration

Thomas L. Sansonetti, Natural Resources Development in Indian Country (2005)

During the past year, the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) settled three major water rights adjudications in which the United States had asserted significant water rights claims for the benefit of tribes. Water adjudications are complex, primarily defensive cases, typically involving the rights of thousands of parties. In the Snake River Basin Adjudication (Idaho), ENRD worked with the Interior Department, the State of Idaho, and the Nez Perce Tribe to craft an historic settlement of a water rights claim. Congress ratified this settlement in the Snake River Water Rights Act, Pub. L. No. 108-447.

Similarly, ENRD worked with the Interior Department, the State of Arizona, the Gila River Indian Community, and private water users to settle the Gila Community's water claims In Re Gila River System and Source (Ariz.), which Congress ratified in the Arizona Water Settlements Act, Pub. L. No.108-451.

A third major settlement was reached in Arizona v. California, concluding a 35-year-long original Supreme Court jurisdiction case involving rights to water from the Colorado River. The settlement - which was approved by the Special Master - resolved the water rights claims of the Quechan Indian Tribe and resolved any disagreement about the location of the Tribe's Reservation boundaries in Arizona.

2. Protecting Tribal Lands