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Water Law

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.

~ Thomas Fuller

Water has become the gold of the West. Increasing demand for this precious resource due to rising population and frequent drought conditions has resulted in a scramble to obtain secure rights to water.  For several decades, The Strickland Law Firm has been representing Indian Tribes and Nations in securing and protecting their federal reserved and aboriginal water rights.  We are highly experienced in representing clients in water matters involving federal, state, and local governmental entities including:

  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) – manager of the Central Arizona Project
  • County, city, and other governmental agencies.

We have a proven track record of success in acquiring and protecting the water rights of our clients, which includes:

  • In the case of the Ak-Chin Indian Community (“Ak-Chin”), we worked closely with Ak-Chin’s Tribal leaders, staff, consultants, and lobbyists to obtain the first legislative water settlement in U.S. history.[1] The settlement, which was legislated in 1984, resulted in the delivery of guaranteed, significant quantities of water to Ak-Chin, even in times of drought. Moreover, we helped to negotiate the terms governing the possibility of the federal government’s failure to deliver water in the future so that Ak-Chin would always be able to obtain its share of water at no cost to the Tribe.[2] As a result, Ak-Chin now has one of the highest priorities of rights to water in Arizona.
  • In 1992, our firm provided the legal assistance necessary to successfully amend the Ak-Chin Water Settlement Act to allow for off-reservation leasing of unused water. This resulted in developer giant Del Webb making substantial payments to Ak-Chin for a quantity of water that Ak-Chin was not using, but which was required for the construction of a large residential development north of Phoenix. In 2000, we again assisted with another amendment to the Act to extend the long-term lease period.
  • Similarly, in the case of the Papago Tribe of Arizona (now named the Tohono O’odham Nation), we were instrumental in the filing of litigation against approximately 1700 defendants, including the State of Arizona, the City of Tucson, major mining companies, agribusinesses and other major industries to determine the Tribe’s water rights in the Santa Cruz Water Basin.  After five years of negotiations, a legislative settlement was acquired.[3]  As General Counsel, we represented the Tribe in the negotiations with the federal, state, and local entities, participated in drafting legislation and committee and conference reports, negotiated, drafted, and implemented contracts with the U.S. Government, and participated in acquiring the necessary federal funding.
  • As General Counsel for the Tohono O’odham Nation (“Nation”), we represented the Nation in the negotiations with state and federal government entities to acquire federal legislation for appropriations to be utilized for replacing lands destroyed by flooding due to construction of a dam off the Nation’s reservation, including negotiating and drafting implementation agreements with the U.S. Government.[4]
  • Again, as General Counsel for the Nation, we successfully negotiated and acquired federal legislation for the payment of monies, plus other benefits, for damages created by the construction of a dam on the Nation’s reservation, including negotiating and drafting implementation agreements with the U.S. Government.[5]
  • Since 2010, we have been representing the Schuk Toak District of Tohono O’odham Nation as Special Water Counsel in the ongoing effort of the District and Nation to achieve implementation of SAWRSA Amendments of 2004.
  • Most recently, our firm has been assisting Ak-Chin’s Environmental Protection Department with preparing regulations and policies governing water and water quality. Our tasks include working cooperatively with the U.S. EPA and, in particular, the EPA’s representatives at Region 9, which oversees Arizona and other states. As a result, Ak-Chin is currently on the verge of completing its TAS application, which will allow the Tribe to regulate the waters within its Reservation just as the states regulate their waters.

Ak-Chin Water Settlement
(P.L.95-328, amended by P.L. 98-530).
[2] If the government fails to deliver the specified quantity of water, it must pay to Ak-Chin the “replacement cost of water,” which means the full cost to not only obtain the water but, also, to deliver it to the Reservation.

[3]Papago Water Settlement Act (Title III of P.L. 97-293).

[4]Gila Bend Indian Reservation Land Replacement Act (P.L. 99-503).

[5]Tohono O’odham Tat Momolikot Dam Settlement Act (P.L. 99-469).

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  • Tucson Office
    4400 E. Broadway
    Suite 700
    Tucson, Arizona 85711
    Phone: 520-795-8727
    Fax: 520-795-5649