American Indian Water Rights in Arizona: From Conflict to Settlement, 1950--2004

Daniel Killoren
History, Arizona State University
December, 2011


The rights of American Indians occupy a unique position within the legal framework of water allocations in the western United States. However, in the formulation and execution of policies that controlled access to water in the desert Southwest, federal and local governments did not preserve the federal reserved water rights that attached to Indian reservations as part of their creation. Consequentially, Indian communities were unable to access the water supplies necessary to sustain the economic development of their reservations. This dissertation analyzes the legal and historical dimensions of the conflict over rights that occurred between Indian communities and non-Indian water users in Arizona during the second half of the twentieth century. Particular attention is paid to negotiations involving local, state, federal, and tribal parties, which led to the Congressional authorization of water rights settlements for several reservations in central Arizona. The historical, economic, and political forces that shaped the settlement process are analyzed in order to gain a better understanding of how water users managed uncertainty regarding their long-term water supplies. The Indian water rights settlement process was made possible through a reconfiguration of major institutional, legal, and policy arrangements that dictate the allocation of water supplies in Arizona.