BOZEMAN, MT—The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) celebrates the passage of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act (S-3308), which President Biden signed into law on January 5, 2023.
The legislation grants Colorado River Indian Tribes the option to lease or exchange a portion of its apportioned water rights to other water users or municipalities of the Lower Colorado River Basin—whether tribal or otherwise. Doing so encourages water conservation, restores tribal sovereignty while unlocking a new potential revenue source for tribes, and benefits western communities by helping avoid costly water reduction mandates during periods of drought.
“This is a significant win for tribal sovereignty and water conservation, particularly in the midst of a historic drought and dangerously low water levels,” said PERC CEO Brian Yablonski. “PERC is grateful to Sen. Kelly (D-AZ) for his leadership on the issue, to the tribes for their longstanding commitment to making this a reality, and to the countless advocates of water markets for conservation.”
PERC has long been a proponent of water markets as an effective conservation tool and worked to support the bill’s passage. Last year, PERC released Addressing Institutional Barriers to Native American Water Markets, a policy brief that called for granting tribes sovereignty over their water, and highlighted the issue through direct policy engagement and media outreach. PERC’s efforts complemented those of tribal leaders, who have long been committed to this issue as well as the overall health of the Colorado River.
Western states are suffering from the largest drought in decades. Last year Lake Mead, which provides water to 25 million people, measured at its lowest level in history. The federal government declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, triggering mandatory cuts to water use across several western states, impacting ecosystem health, communities, farmers, and food costs. Regional water scarcity and mandatory reductions in water use have amplified the need for water markets to encourage conservation and redirect water to its highest-value uses.