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Federal projects and federal and tribal water rights

For over 100 years, the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers have developed storage and reclamation projects that affect western water users.  These projects are developed and operated pursuant to federal laws but also must integrate with water laws in the state where they are located.  These projects may also affect compliance with interstate compacts.  In Idaho, federal projects control storage of over 4 million-acre feet of water in the Upper Snake River Basin.  In Colorado, federal projects include Colorado-Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, Trinidad, Animas-La Plata, Dolores, and John Martin Reservoir.  Over time, uses for project waters outside the original statutory authorization have been proposed or implemented, raising issues under both state and federal law.  We have experience in cutting through the complex legal and factual issues that arise from operation of federal water projects and advocating for our clients’ local interests.

Various legal complexities, including the federal reserved rights doctrine, attend water rights diverted from a stream system that also supply an Indian reservation or other large federal land holding.  Federal reserved water rights continue to be adjudicated throughout the western states, sometimes to the detriment of existing water uses; vested water rights owners also have an interest in ensuring lawful operation of nearby adjudicated federal and tribal water rights.