Keepers of
the River

“The Colorado River is sacred, water is life, the peoples are the keepers of the River, and we take full responsibility to care for the River.” So begins the vision of Tribes that live and rely on the Colorado River and have united to protect its cultural and ecological resources.

The Ten Tribes

Prolonged drought in the Colorado River Basin has resulted in increased water management challenges. The risk of reaching critically low elevations at both Lake Powell and Lake Mead over the next decade has nearly doubled. As we look to the future, most Tribes anticipate taking full advantage of their water rights by 2040. This, coupled with the declining capacity in the basin, leaves an alarming disparity of water for all users.

Formed in 1992, the goal of the Ten Tribes Partnership is to increase the influence of tribes in Colorado River management and provide support for the protection and use of tribal water resources. The Ten Tribes Partnership is a coalition of Upper and Lower Basin Tribes that have come together to claim their seat at the table and raise their voices in the management of the Colorado River as water challenges persist. The Partnership has been an active leader in elevating key issues related to water management and the driving force behind fair treatment of Tribal water users and their rights throughout the Colorado River Basin.

Water is Life

Since time immemorial Native Americans have had historical and cultural connections to water. For Tribes, water is life – It not only sustains them, supports agriculture and farming, native wildlife and riparian plants, food and sustenance, but is sacred to Tribal people.

The Colorado River is the primary source of water for 40 million people and 90 percent of the nation’s vegetable production, and yet we are using more water than the natural flow provides.

“Water is life. Water is the giver and sustainer of life. Water is a sacred and spiritual element to the Tribes of the Partnership…. The Partnership will embrace and own the stewardship of the Colorado River and lead from a spiritual mandate to ensure that this sacred water will always be protected, available and sufficient.” – Ten Tribes Partnership Vision Statement

Tribes of the Colorado River Basin


The Upper Colorado River Basin is comprised of four states and five Tribal nations that are members of the Ten Tribes Partnership. The Ten Tribes Partnership member Tribes that reside in the Upper Basin include the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Navajo Nation.

The Upper Basin states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, collectively contribute the vast majority of water coming into the Colorado River Basin. The Upper Basin is reliant on seasonal precipitation like winter snowpack and spring water runoff. But water supply in the Colorado River is strained due to the impacts of climate change, persistent drought and population growth.


The Lower Colorado River Basin is critical to the future of agriculture in the region and provides water for 24 Tribal nations, five of which are members of the Ten Tribes Partnership. Member Tribes that reside in the Lower Basin include the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Chemehuevi Indian Tribes, Quechan Indian Tribes and Cocopah Indian Tribes.

In this region, the Colorado River winds through Nevada, Arizona and California, with much of the water withdrawn along the way for agricultural, industrial and municipal uses. The river also provides essential habitat for six threatened and endangered species in the Lower Colorado River Basin and holds a historical spiritual and cultural connection for Tribes in the region.

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The Tribal Water Study

To guide and educate the public about water management and Tribal usage, The Ten Tribes Partnership has partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to develop the Tribal Water Study. This study delineates current and future uses of Colorado River water by the Tribes in order to strategize ways to address Tribal needs and perspectives while ensuring sustainability for other water users in the Colorado River Basin.

Included in the study are descriptions of each Tribe’s current water use, how they manage water and the challenges to using reserved water rights and unresolved claims. Each reservation outlines infrastructure components and operations including efficiencies and conservation activities, historical use and cultural importance of water. In coordination with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Ten Tribes Partnership also assessed future Tribal water development using a scenario planning process to envision a range of how Tribal water could be developed through 2060. The scenario planning process and its outcomes reflect the priorities that the Partnership identified as critical to their future water development.

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Wildlife of the River Basin

  • Burrowing Owl
  • Desert Bighorn
  • Mexican Gray Wolf
  • Bonytail Chub
  • Mexican Spotted Owl
  • Colorado Pike Minnow
  • Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
  • Yuma Clapper Rail