Federal Appeals Court Clarifies Water Rights Question

Published: Friday, June 16, 2017 - 12:16pm
Updated: Friday, June 16, 2017 - 12:31pm

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week ruled in favor of the Gila River Indian Community, in a case dealing with water rights.

The court’s decision overturned a lower court ruling, and said water rights secured before 1919 can be lost under state forfeiture law.

Attorney Rita Maguire specializes in water law, and said those pre-1919 rights are generally less formal than those established under a water code. She said the decision is significant, especially since it answers a question water lawyers had been asking for some time.

"The most senior rights in a system are the most valuable," Maguire said. "And so, you need to know how secure those rights are."

The court’s ruling affirmed the Gila River Indian Community’s positions. Its governor said in a statement that the decision “is a victory for all water rights owners, Indian and non-Indian alike, who consistently work to put their water rights to productive uses.”

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