Tribal Water Law and Policy

As a result of tribes' sovereign status and federally recognized water rights, they have an important place in the management and allocation of California’s water resources. While most water rights are based on state law, federal law recognizes a special type of water right commonly known as “federal reserved rights.” This right was first recognized in 1906 by the United States Supreme Court in Winters v. United States and applies to certain federal lands, including tribal reservations. Many California tribes have established reserved rights or are in the process of asserting them. This class will cover the legal foundation and policy behind Native American water rights and how these rights fit in California’s water allocation system. Students will review recent developments involving Native American water rights, including quantification through litigation and congressionally approved water rights settlements. They will also review Native American water rights issues in the Klamath, Lake Tahoe and Colorado River basins. This unique class is a continuation of the California Water Law and Policy course and would be of interest to policy executives, water and environmental officials and tribal representatives who wish to better understand California water.

Topics include:

  • The importance of Native American water rights
  • The legal basis for tribal sovereignty
  • Overview of California surface water and groundwater systems
  • The origin of federal reserved water rights and the Winters Doctrine
  • Scope and nature of reserved water rights
  • Quantification of Native American water rights
  • McCarran Amendment and state court adjudication
  • Application to groundwater
  • Tribal water rights settlements
  • Transferring Native American water rights
  • Control of river navigation and riverbeds on tribal lands
  • The effect of the Endangered Species Act on Native American water rights
  • Regulation within reservations and Native American Water Codes
  • Tribal regulation of water quality
Course Code
Title Start Date Enrollment
Tribal Water Law and Policy Jun 3 Enroll Now