This report traces the reclamation of the arid western frontier. The story centers on the development of water customs, property rights, and the resulting infringement on the existing culture and economic welfare of the many tribes and bands of native people that date their occupation of that same arid western frontier earlier by centuries. When the U.S. government designated reservations, it assumed the duty to protect, by action and intent, implied reserved water rights. A history is provided of Supreme Court decisions that affirm these implied reserved water rights.
A history of legislation that appropriated funds for hydroelectric plants and massive irrigation diversions and canal systems is followed by examples which show the disregard of Indian water rights and Indian economic welfare. Of the three case studies included, two show the collapse of thriving industries and the ensuing dependency on federal programs, which provide financial support for formerly self-reliant and economically sound communities. The concluding chapter offers policy prescriptions for equitable allocations for all water users in the west.