Winter 2019

Native Americans and the Fight for Water

Leslie Sanchez is researching whether having clear water rights has helped reservations grow more crops.

Previous Next

Photo: Shutterstock

In 1908, the Supreme Court decided that Native American tribes have a right to water for their reservations. Yet that hasn’t kept tribes and their neighbors in increasingly arid parts of the West from questioning exactly how many gallons a year that means, or where the water should come from.

Some reservations have been able to legally quantify their rights by bringing lawsuits or negotiating settlements with other water users. Yet no empirical research has been done on why reservations choose one path over the other, or whether tribes that get their water amounts on the books benefit in the long run.

Leslie Sanchez, a Ph.D. student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program who was named a 2018 Switzer Fellow for her promise as an environmental leader, is attempting to answer both those questions in her dissertation. She is particularly interested in whether having clear water rights has helped reservations grow more crops. “For a lot of tribes, the agricultural economies have withered as water sources have been diverted by off-reservation water users,” Sanchez said. But farmers on reservations face plenty of other obstacles, from complicated rules on land use to difficulty getting loans.

Sanchez hopes her research will help improve agriculture and water security on reservations, as well as guide state governments as they plan for water needs in the face of climate change.

Top Stories

Top Docs

Nine nutrition experts who are doing big things with their Ph.D.s.

Is Calorie Counting Dead?

For a century now, dieters have been trying—and failing— to lose weight by obsessively tracking the calorie content of everything they eat. There has to be a better way.

The Unstoppable Frances Stern

How Stern’s first-of-its-kind nutrition center became a model for other clinics and a training ground for generations of dietitians devoted to the cause.

Editor's Picks

Warning: Falling Strength Ahead

Researchers take a crucial step in the fight against muscle loss.

10 Things You Need to Know About Fiber

A nutritional epidemiologist separates the facts from the hype.

The Fridge-in-the-Classroom Test

Could putting refrigerators in classrooms lead to healthier snacks?