New Water Institute a Groundbreaking Development


A groundbreaking Tribal Water Institute has been inaugurated, established through the collaboration of a national Native nonprofit law organization and a foundation devoted to river conservation. This institute’s primary aim is to bolster advocacy for tribal water rights, to recruit and educate the forthcoming generation of tribal water attorneys, and to provide comprehensive education on tribal water law and policies.

This institute will find its home within the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), a nationally recognized nonprofit organization specializing in legal assistance related to Indigenous law cases. In a significant move, the Walton Family Foundation has committed to a $1.4 million funding over the next three years to support this institute’s operations and initiatives.

The collaborative plan, set to be detailed soon, is designed to amplify and build upon the extensive expertise, networks, and coalitions that NARF has developed over its 53-year history. A notable feature of this institute is the inception of a new legal water fellow program. This program is specifically tailored to educate young attorneys in the intricacies of water law, with a strong emphasis on tribal water law and policies. The introduction of this program is expected to significantly enhance NARF’s capacity and contribute to a rise in the number of attorneys specializing in this particular field.

Moreover, the institute is committed to supporting research and providing legal resources essential for the guidance of tribal water policies. It is also set to publish a semiannual tribal water report, a crucial educational tool for tribes, policymakers, and attorneys. This report will focus on shedding light on new and ongoing legal cases, pending legislation, and upcoming rules and regulations relevant to tribal water law.

A key role of the Tribal Water Institute will be to continue NARF’s engagement in the Ad Hoc Water Group on Indian Water Rights Settlements, in collaboration with the Western States Water Council and other key stakeholders. This group has a longstanding history of facilitating negotiations to resolve Indian water rights disputes, educating Congress, and advocating for the allocation of funds necessary for water projects. Additionally, the institute will take on the responsibility of organizing a biennial symposium, a tradition that has been ongoing since 1991. This symposium serves as a vital platform for experts, tribal water advocates, and water protectors to exchange valuable information and advice regarding the creation and implementation of Indian water rights settlements.

These symposiums are particularly significant as they represent the only current meetings that consolidate and disseminate comprehensive information on federal-reserved Indian water rights issues and ongoing cases. David L. Gover, a managing attorney at NARF, has emphasized the critical need for more resources and expertise to support tribes in their often prolonged battles over water rights. This new institute aims to add those vital resources and expertise to NARF’s team of water attorneys, as well as to collaborate with law schools in the training and education of future water advocates.

Recent interactions and negotiations, such as those involving the Colorado River Indian Tribes and their water rights, as well as the struggles of the Hualapai Tribe to secure and utilize their water rights, illustrate the institute’s immediate relevance and necessity. Morgan Snyder from the Walton Family Foundation highlighted the institute’s crucial role in addressing the pressing water issues in the West, particularly in the context of the Colorado River, amid the challenges of climate change and adaptation.

The establishment of the Tribal Water Institute is a landmark step in ensuring that tribes are equipped with the necessary resources, expertise, and educational opportunities to effectively protect their water rights and navigate the complex landscape of legal and environmental challenges. This initiative marks a significant commitment to providing essential support, advocacy, and educational resources in the realm of tribal water rights, ensuring that tribes are well-prepared to handle the complexities and challenges of water rights negotiations and legal battles.


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