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Interior Department allocates $1.7 billion for tribal water rights settlements

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The Colorado River. The Interior Department will allocate $1.7 billion in for tribal water settlements across the country. She met Tuesday with leaders of the Gila River Indian Community and other officials about settled water claims.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has announced $1.7 billion in federal funding for tribal water infrastructure across the country. She met Tuesday with leaders of the Gila River Indian Community and other officials about settled water claims.

Haaland says the funds will come from last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It’ll help deliver long-promised water to tribes that’ve reached federal settlements approved by Congress.

Many tribes are legally entitled to water but don’t have the means to access it. According to Haaland, the money, including an influx of $224 million in Arizona alone, is designed and finalize all tribal settlements while updating critical infrastructure.

"Water is a sacred resource, and water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities," said Haaland. "With this crucial funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior Department will be able to uphold our trust responsibilities and ensure that Tribal communities receive the water resources they have long been promised. I am grateful that Tribes, some of whom have been waiting for this funding for decades, are finally getting the resources they are owed.”

Congress has approved 34 such settlements. Many of the disputes between Indigenous nations, states and other non-tribal entities have been ongoing for decades, and involve the Navajo Nation, Hualapai, White Mountain Apache, and other western tribes.

Officials say the funding will allow the Interior Department to uphold its trust responsibilities to ensure tribes have water access. They also say the settlements provide certainty to non-tribal groups and help develop local economies.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.