U.S. Water News Online
WORLAND, Wyo. -- A state district judge issued his final
judgment on senior water rights claims on the Wind River Indian
Reservation, moving a broader legal dispute closer to completion.
The amended judgment and decree, signed by 5th District Judge Gary
P. Hartman, ends legal arguments over which lands acquired from
Indian owners and kept under irrigation are entitled to ``Walton''
water rights that date to creation of the reservation in 1868.
For water users, holders of the oldest, or most senior, water
rights have priority over those with younger rights. During dry
periods, junior water rights holders could receive less or no water.
The final decree awards Walton rights to 221 parties, most of
which are non-Indians.
Settling the Walton claims is a major step toward final resolution
of the landmark Big Horn River case, which will establish priority
for use of all waters in the Wind and Big Horn rivers, including all
The Big Horn case, which dates to 1977, is looked upon as a model
in the resolution of water rights between Indian and non-Indian
Hartman changed some of the terms created by court Special Master
Ramsey Kropf, but generally followed his recommendations.
While the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes administer federal reserved
rights at tribal headgates, he said the state has primary
administrative responsibility over state water rights and monitors
tribal headgates to ensure that federal reserved rights are delivered
The judge upheld the special master's report that 1868 rights
remain tied to the land if the property is sold. Tribal attorneys had
sought to establish that the rights could be separated.
Clarified was the status of lands passed to a non-Indian, then
back to Indian ownership. The date of the first transfer from an
Indian allottee should be the controlling date, Hartman said.
The decree, signed Aug. 30, said that in a delay caused by probate
after an allottee's death, the date of transfer out of allottee
ownership relates to the date of death, not the date of probate.
Also clarified was the measurement of water to which a property is
entitled, using acre feet.
The final decree said the office of the tribal engineer can
administer federal reserved water rights and Walton rights on land
owned by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahos and tribal
members, as well as water rights on land owned by the United States
but held in trust for the tribes.
``This administrative duty commences at the point of the tribal
headgate,'' Hartman said.
The state engineer administers Walton rights on property owned by
The judge noted that irrigated land on the Wind River Indian
Reservation is a checkerboard pattern of ownership comprised of state
water users and federal reserved right users, and that most are state
While noting that ``significant distrust'' exists among
irrigators, tribes, and the state over administration, Hartman said
the state engineer's and tribal water engineer's offices have been
able to work effectively together to resolve many conflicts.
The original award of 500,000 acre feet to the tribes stands and
is not affected by the Walton right process.
The state engineer's office is working to resolve other remaining
Return to the
U.S. Water News' Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.