More than a century after the Supreme Court issued its foundational Indian water law cases, only a handful of American Indian tribes have secured decrees or settlements of legally enforceable water rights. Efforts to resolve tribal water claims are typically hampered by legal and factual complexities as well as the equitable and political legacy of the United States’ western expansion. Meanwhile, those difficulties notwithstanding, planners are refining their methodologies and rising to new challenges our water resource management systems now face (e.g., climate variability, aging infrastructure, changing use-value priorities, etc.). Signaling a departure from exclusive reliance on formal dispute resolution mechanisms for facilitating tribal-state engagement on water resource issues, states have begun to engage tribal governments in collaborative water planning efforts. While planning cannot serve as a substitute for the enforceable legal finality of a decree or congressionally approved settlement, tribal-state collaboration in appropriate context and structure may present new opportunities for making overdue progress. Drawing on law, history, political science, Native American studies, and principals of dispute resolution and management, this article situates and explores the experiences of California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma in their outreach to tribes in state-led water planning efforts.

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