Winters v. United States (1908)

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  • The most significant case in Indian water rights law is the 1908 Supreme Court decision of Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564. In what is referred to today as the Winters Doctrine (also called the Implied Reservations Doctrine or Reserved Water Rights Doctrine), the Supreme Court determined that American Indian tribes possess rights to water that are separate from the nation's two major water rights systems—the riparian system in the East and prior appropriations in the West. As a result of the Winters decision, tribes are major players in water issues, especially in the West where the majority of Indian nations reside. The growing demands for water in the arid West have magnified tribes’ prominence as key players in the politics of western water. ...

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