Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Public Rights in Water: The Winters Doctrine

Scholarly Articles

Scholarly / Law Review Articles: 

  1. Scott Hopley and Susan Ross, Aboriginal Claims to Water Rights Grounded in the Principle Ad Medium Filum Aquae, Riparian Rights and the Winters Doctrine, 19 J. Env. L. & Prac. 225 (2009).
  2. Kristy Pozniak, Indian Reserved Water Rights: Should Canadian Courts "Nod Approval" to the Winters Doctrine and What Are the Implications for Saskatchewan if They do?, 69 Sask. L. Rev. 251 (2006). 
  3. Michael C. Blumm, Reversing the Winters Doctrine? Denying Reserved Water Rights for Idaho Wilderness and its Implications, 73 U. Colo. L. Rev. 173 (2002). 
  4. E. Brendan Shane, Water Rights and Gila River III: The Winters Doctrine Goes Underground, 4 U. Denv. Water. L. Rev. 397 (2001). 
  5. Monique C. Shay, Promises of a Viable Homeland, Reality of Selective Reclamation: A Study of the Relationship Between the Winters Doctrine and Federal Water Development in the Western United States, 19 Ecology L.Q. 547 (1992). 
  6. Reid Peyton Chambers and John E. Echohawk, Implementing the Winters Doctrine of Indian Reserved Water Rights: Producing Indian Water and Ecnomic Development Without Injuring Non-Indian Water Users?, 27 Gonz. L. Rev. 447 (1991/92). 
  7. Richard B. Collins, The Future Course of the Winters Doctrine, 56 U. Colo. L. Rev. 481 (1985).  
  8. Jim Shore and Jerry C. Straus, The Seminole Water Rights Compact and the Seminole Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987, 1 J. Land Use & Envtl. L. 1 (1990). 

Seminole Indian Lands Claim Settlement Act of 1987

  • As party to the Seminole Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987, the Tribe transferred the land and water rights to a part of the historic Big Cypress State reservation to the State to be managed by the Water Management District for Everglades restoration. This action expanded State holdings in the environmentally sensitive Rotenberger Tract and Water Conservation Area 3A, which are part of the Everglades Protection Area.
  • Extinguishes all aboriginal Seminole land claims in Florida and any claims arising from any interest in or right involving such lands or natural resources transferred.  Prohibits the United States from being liable for certain claims including those arising from the approval of the Settlement Agreement.
  • Provides that the compact defining the scope of Seminole water rights shall have the force of Federal law for enforcing the tribe's rights and obligations.
  • Senate Bill 1684 (100th Congress) / Public Law No. 100-228
    • Sponsor: Florida Senator Bob Graham

The Origins of the Winters Doctrine

Winters Doctrine: 

Establishes that when the federal government created the Indian reservations, water rights were reserved in sufficient quantity to meet the purposes for which the reservation was established.

An Indian Reservation may reserve water for future use in an amount necessary to fufill the purpose of the reservation, with a priority dating from the treaty that established the reservation.

Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564 (1908).

Winters Doctrine Applied:

Courts have held that Indian tribes have "reserved" rights in all waters that arise on, border, traverse, or underlie their reservations.

Homelands without an adequate water supply are essentially worthless.  

Seminole Water Rights Compact

The Seminole Water Rights Compact effectuated a settlement agreement that effectively terminated litigation between the Tribe, the State of Florida, and the South Florida Water Management District.  Congress approved the Compact when it passed Seminole Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987.  The Compact, which served as the vehicle recognizing and defining federal water rights for the Tribe, was the first of its kind in an eastern riparian state.  The Compact promotes cooperation among the State and Tribe when dealing with natural resources and the environment.  

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.