aerial view of colorado river

DNR Responds to Ute Tribe Water Claims

October 12, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY (Oct. 12, 2021) – Neither the State of Utah nor the Lake Powell Pipeline has taken the Ute Indian Tribe’s water rights. The tribe has long held a federally decreed water right for 144,000 acre-feet of depletion from the Colorado River system. The state has recognized and respected this water right and the tribe’s annual use of water under it. 

The state and tribe completed years of negotiations on a water compact in 1990 that entitles the tribe to an additional 115,000 acre-feet of depletion from the Colorado River system annually, for a combined total of 259,000 acre-feet. This amount of water approaches the state of Nevada’s annual allocation of Colorado River water of 300,000 acre-feet. 

Congress’s passage of the Central Utah Project Completion Act or CUPCA in 1992 ratified the 1990 compact and thereby acknowledged the tribe’s 259,000 acre-feet reserved water right as part of the settlement of the tribe’s overall water claims. While the tribe has yet to ratify the 1990 compact, it has accepted hundreds of millions of dollars Congress provided under CUPCA as final settlement of the tribe’s water-related claims.

Utah recognizes the tribe’s 259,000 acre-feet federal reserved water right under the terms of CUPCA and the 1990 compact. The state’s allocation of water from the Colorado River system accommodates the tribe’s reserved water rights along with other water rights, including the right for the Lake Powell Pipeline.  

The state has not prevented the tribe from exercising its federal reserved water rights, nor will the Lake Powell Pipeline diminish those rights. The project’s water right is distinct from the tribe’s water rights. The early priority of the tribe’s rights will allow it to beneficially use those rights regardless of the Lake Powell Pipeline’s operation. 

The state is pleased the tribe’s claims against the Department of the Interior, State of Utah, and Central Utah Water Conservancy District alleging discrimination, interference, theft, and mismanagement of tribal water resources in two federal court lawsuits filed in 2018 have recently been dismissed. However, dismissal of the claims does not alter the state’s ongoing commitment to cooperatively work with the tribe regarding water resource matters.

Note: News coverage over the past few months has not included the State of Utah’s position because ongoing litigation prevented the state from commenting. However, on Sept. 15, 2021, a federal judge dismissed 12 of the 16 claims against the United States and the State of Utah and transferred the remaining four claims to the District of Utah Federal Court. The court’s ruling dismissed the tribe’s claim of discrimination regarding its water rights.

Media Contact
Kim Wells
Communications Director
Department of Natural Resources