Proposed Extension of the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund

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Updated July 9, 2020
Proposed Extension of the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund
Since 1978, the federal government has entered into 36
Direction and Structure for the
water rights settlements with individual Indian tribes. These
Reclamation Water Settlements Fund
Indian water rights settlements are a means of resolving
Title X of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of
ongoing disputes related to Indian water rights among
2009 (P.L. 111-11, 43 U.S.C. §407) authorized mandatory
tribes, federal and state governments, and other parties
spending for certain Indian water rights settlements. It also
(e.g., water rights holders). Some settlements have been
authorized discretionary funding for a number of
approved by Congress in authorizing legislation that also
settlements. The legislation created a new Treasury fund—
provides funding for projects that allow tribes to access and
the RWSF—and scheduled funds to be deposited and
develop their water resources. (For more information on
available in the fund beginning in FY2020. The act directs
these settlements in general, see CRS Report R44148,
the Secretary of the Treasury to deposit $120 million into
Indian Water Rights Settlements.)
the fund for each year from FY2020 to FY2029 (i.e.,
outside of the 10-year scoring window), for a total of $1.2
Historically, federal funding for Indian water rights
billion. The funds are directed from the revenues that
settlements has been provided through discretionary
otherwise would be deposited into the Reclamation Fund
appropriations. In recent years, however, Congress also has
and are made available without any further appropriations.
approved mandatory funding for some settlements.
(For more information on the Reclamation Fund, see CRS
Congress created the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund
In Focus IF10042, The Reclamation Fund.)
(RWSF) in 2009 as a dedicated source of additional funding
for existing and future Indian water rights settlements. The
fund is administered by the Bureau of Reclamation
In P.L. 111-11, Congress directed the Secretary of the
(Reclamation, a water resources management agency within
Treasury to deposit $120 mil ion per year, from
the Department of the Interior) and is authorized to receive
FY2020 to FY2029, into the Reclamation Water
$120 million per year in mandatory funding from FY2020
Settlements Fund. The fund provides a dedicated
through FY2029.
source of funding to support certain Indian water
rights settlements.
Some Members of Congress have been interested both in
the annual allocation and prioritization of projects within
In P.L. 111-11, Congress directed that the RWSF may be
the RWSF and in proposals for its extension. However,
used to implement a water rights settlement agreement
none of the extensions proposed in the 115th and 116th
approved by Congress that resolves, in whole or in part,
Congresses have been enacted.
litigation involving the United States. Congress also stated
that the fund may be used for other settlement agreements
where the implementing legislation requires Reclamation to
Congress generally has authorized mandatory funding (i.e.,
provide financial assistance for, or to plan, design, or
direct funding, without further congressional action
construct, a water project. The act assigned tiers of priority
required) for Indian water rights settlements in one of three
that provided certain individual settlements—both enacted
and not yet enacted—with priority access to these funds
(Table 1).
1. Mandatory funding for specific
individual settlements. Examples
If any of the priority settlements was not authorized by
include several individual settlements
December 31, 2019, the amounts reserved for that
authorized and funded in P.L. 111-291.
settlement were to revert to the fund and become eligible
2. Redirection of existing receipts. The
for other authorized uses. Additionally, if not all funding is
primary example is the Arizona Water
expended after the authorized priority settlements are fully
Rights Settlement Act (P.L. 108-451),
funded, and before the expiration of the fund itself, those
which redirected certain receipts within
appropriations could be used for other authorized Indian
the Lower Colorado River Basin
water rights settlements. Although the last appropriations to
Development Fund to Indian water rights
the RWSF are currently scheduled to be made in FY2029,
the fund itself would not sunset until the end of FY2034, at
3. Mandatory funding through the
which time any unexpended balances would be transferred
RWSF. The RWSF is available to fund
back to the General Fund of the Treasury.
Indian water rights settlements with $120

million per year from FY2020 to FY2029.

The remainder of this report focuses on the RWSF.

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Table 1. Priority Tiers and Settlements for the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund (RWSF)
Maximum RWSF
Priority Tier
Settlement/Project Name (Enacting Legislation)
Funding Authorized
New Mexico Settlements:
Navajo-Gal up Water Supply Project/Navajo Nation Water Settlement (P.L.
$500 mil ion

Aamodt Settlement (P.L. 111-291); Abeyta (Taos Pueblo) Settlement (P.L.
$250 mil ion
Montana Settlements:
Crow Settlement (P.L. 111-291); Blackfeet Settlement (P.L. 114-322); Gros
$350 mil ion
Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservation (not enacted)a

Arizona Settlements:
$100 mil ion
Navajo Nation Lower Colorado (not enacted)a
No Tier
Al other approved settlements
Source: Congressional Research Service, based on P.L. 111-11 and authorizing legislation referenced above.
Funds reserved for settlements that were not enacted by December 31, 2019, revert to the fund for other authorized uses.
remaining funding allocations would be announced in a
work plan after appropriations are enacted.
Five of the seven settlements that Congress designated as
potentially eligible (pending authorization) to receive
Congressional Interest
priority RWSF funding were authorized prior to the
Congress has expressed interest in how the RWSF will be
December 31, 2019, deadline and are thus expected to
allocated in the coming years, as well as in a potential long-
receive some level of RWSF funds . Congress provided four
term extension of the RWSF. In the 116th Congress, H.R. 2
of these settlements with additional mandatory
would extend the fund in perpetuity at the current funding
appropriations (i.e., funding in addition to that provided in
level of $120 million per year, beginning in FY2031 (i.e.,
P.L. 111-11) in 2012 (P.L. 111-291). The settlements
appropriations would lapse in FY2030). Separately, both
receiving additional funding from P.L. 111-291 included
H.R. 1904 and Title II, Section 210 of the draft House
the Navajo Nation/Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project
Energy and Water appropriations bill, as reported by the
($180 million); the Aamodt Settlement ($82 million); the
House Appropriations Committee, would extend transfers
Taos Pueblo Settlement ($66 million); and the Crow
to the fund in perpetuity (i.e., there would be no lapse in
Settlement ($302 million). Only one of these settlements
FY2030). S. 886, as reported in the Senate, would have
(Taos Pueblo) has been fully funded and is therefore not
extended current mandatory appropriations to the fund for
expected to draw down its share of funding from the
10 years beyond the current authorization (i.e.,
RWSF. It is unclear to what extent mandatory
appropriations from FY2030 to FY2039). S. 886 also would
appropriations (as well as any discretionary appropriations
have capped at $90 million the cumulative allocations from
provided by Congress) for the other settlements will affect
the fund for individual authorized settlements. This
each settlement’s drawdown of the RWSF and its resulting
extension was not included in the amended version of the
availability for use on other settlements.
bill passed by the Senate.
The authorizing legislation for each RWSF-prioritized
Those in favor of extending the RWSF note that there are
settlement includes a deadline by which the settlement must
significant additional needs expected for both authorized
be fully appropriated. These dates may affect the timing of
and yet-to-be-approved Indian water rights settlements.
future RWSF allocations. For New Mexico settlements, the
They argue that assured funding for these settlements would
Navajo-Gallup Project must be fully appropriated by a
allow associated projects to be completed in a timely
deadline of December 2024 and the Aamodt Settlement
manner and would meet a key federal responsibility to
deadline is June 2024. For Montana settlements, the
tribes. Some argue that open-ended funding (i.e., no
Blackfeet Settlement deadline is January 2025 and the
expiration) for the RWSF would not be a prudent use of
Crow Settlement deadline is June 2030.
taxpayer dollars, whereas others believe that discretionary
appropriations, rather than mandatory appropriations, are
In February 2020, Reclamation formally announced the first
the preferable approach for funding approved settlements.
allocation of RWSF funding: $100 million for the Navajo-
Gallup Project and $20 million for the Blackfeet
Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Settlement. In its FY2021 budget request, Reclamation
noted that it planned to allocate $102 million of FY2021
RWSF funds for the Navajo-Gallup project and stated that

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
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wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material. | IF11586 · VERSION 3 · UPDATED