Richard Hughes on Pueblo Water Rights

Richard W. Hughes has published “Pueblo Indian Water Rights: Charting the Unknown” in the Natural Resources Journal, Winter 2017.

Here is the abstract:

This article examines the so-far-unsuccessful efforts to judicially define and quantify the water rights appurtenant to the core land holdings of the 19 New Mexico Pueblos, many of whose lands straddle the Rio Grande. It explains that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has squarely held that Pueblo water rights are governed by federal, not state law, and are prior to those of any non-Indian appropriator, but also that the Tenth Circuit acknowledged that it could not say how those rights should be characterized. Part I of the article examines the course of the cases that have sought to achieve this elusive goal. Of the first six cases, filed half a century ago, three ended in negotiated settlements and none of them has yielded a definitive ruling on the nature or measure of Pueblo rights. Of the three cases filed since then, only one is in active litigation on the Pueblo rights issue, but that case may finally lead to a substantive ruling. Part II discusses the few rulings that have been issued in these cases so far relative to Pueblo water rights, and examines the distinctive nature of the issues that are presented by the unique circumstances of the Pueblos’ history and landholdings. The article notes that the ultimate determination of the nature and measure of Pueblo rights could have dramatic consequences for any effort to adjudicate rights on the mainstem of the Upper and Middle Rio Grande.

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