Smith, Ryan A.

Senior Legislative Advisor, U.S. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Deputy Counsel, Arizona Department of Water Resources

Counsel, Arizona Water Banking Authority

Associate, Robbins & Green, P.A. (now part of Jennings Strouss & Salmon), Phoenix

As chair of the firm’s Natural Resources Department and American Indian Law and Policy Group, Ryan Smith focuses on western natural resources issues and represents water districts, tribes and private entities throughout the country before Congress, the administration and the courts. Before joining Brownstein, Ryan served as a senior legislative advisor to former Senator Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and deputy counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources. In government and in private practice, Ryan has been instrumental in the development of federal legislation relating to western natural resources, successfully ushering through Congress several significant pieces of legislation concerning Indian water settlements that provide vital water-related infrastructure projects, the Colorado River, water management and federal funding for Indian country.

As a former senior legislative staffer, he has extensive experience dealing with Congress, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Agriculture on legislative and other federal issues.

His career experience also includes commercial litigation and serving as a legal intern for Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

Ryan is a frequent author and speaker on Indian water law and legislation.

Previous Experience

Senior Legislative Advisor, U.S. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Deputy Counsel, Arizona Department of Water Resources

Counsel, Arizona Water Banking Authority

Associate, Robbins & Green, P.A. (now part of Jennings Strouss & Salmon), Phoenix

Practices & Industries
Water Law

West of the Beltway, Ryan represented the State of Arizona in connection with Indian water settlements and surface and groundwater management, and advised the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources during negotiations with other Colorado River Basin states concerning the Colorado River’s operating criteria as well as the United States’ Colorado River treaty obligation with Mexico. He also served as counsel to the Arizona Water Banking Authority, which is responsible for storing Arizona’s unused Colorado River apportionment. In addition, Ryan served as a legislative advisor to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on water and tribal issues. While at Brownstein, Ryan has continued to focus on western water issues. 

Indian & Water Legislation

Throughout his career, Ryan has helped develop successful legislation relating to water rights, tribal rights and the environment. While in the Senate, he played a major role in ushering through a number of Indian water settlements totaling nearly $1 billion, including the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act, and a $3.4 billion settlement of financial mismanagement claims brought by American Indians against the United States Department of the Interior. The White Mountain Apache settlement, which was Ryan's primary responsibility, authorizes $292 million in federal funding for the White Mountain Apache Tribe in consideration for the tribe waiving its water rights claims against the United States. 

Ryan’s work on the Arizona Water Rights Settlements Act resulted in an amendment to the Act to ensure that the underlying legislation, which authorized the largest Indian water settlement in United States history, became effective.

He was also instrumental in obtaining the authorization of approximately $313 million in federal funding to cover the federal government’s share of the cost of a comprehensive, cooperative effort among 50 federal and non-federal entities in Arizona, California, and Nevada to protect and maintain wildlife habitat along the Colorado River. This legislation, The Lower Colorado River Multi-species Program Act, also provides assurances to the affected water and power agencies of the three states that their vital river operations may continue as long as they comply with the applicable conservation program.

Representative Matters
News & Events
Publications & Presentations
  • Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy Under a Biden Administration
    Brownstein Client Alert, November 13, 2020

  • Indian Law & Policy Update, November 10, 2020
    Brownstein Client Alert, November 10, 2020

  • American Indian Provisions in the CARES Act

    On March 26, the Senate approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748) by a vote of 96-0. The $2 trillion measure is the largest economic rescue package in American history. The bill will now go to the House, with a voice vote scheduled for March 27. Below is a summary of funding provisions pertinent to Indian tribes and their citizens.

    Tribal Governments and Economies

    The CARES Act seeks to make sure that Indian tribes and tribally-owned businesses have critical relief, including equal access to federal COVID-19 economic recovery resources. It provides tribes and their government-owned enterprises access to $8 billion in funding to support COVID-19 response and manage costs.

    Governments and businesses alike are experiencing a revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribes, which must rely on tribal business revenue to fund essential government services, from health care to public safety feel acutely the economic impact caused by COVID-19. Tribal industries contribute $50+ billion/year to tribal governments and the American economy, employing thousands of people. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated tribal businesses, threatening tribal governments’ ability to provide basic services or bolster programs to respond to the pandemic.

    The $8 billion relief fund that will be administered by the Department of the Treasury is reserved for tribal governments and tribally-owned entities to use in 2020 due to COVID-19. The Treasury Secretary must develop a model to distribute the funding in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and Indian tribes.

    In addition to the direct relief funded through Treasury, tribes will be eligible for the Small Business Act Section 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program. That program will provide 100% federal loan guarantees up to $10 million to cover costs like employee salaries, paid sick leave/medical leave, mortgages/rents, and employee health insurance premiums.

    Further, the CARES Act allows Indian tribes to be reimbursed for half of their incurred unemployment benefit costs through Dec. 31, 2020.

    The CARES Act also provides $453 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide additional support to tribal government programs; support welfare assistance and social services; expand public safety and emergency response capabilities; increase BIA teleworking infrastructure; and meet increased staffing and overtime costs.

    Health Care

    The CARES Act provides $1.032 billion in additional support for the Indian Health Service (IHS), including for medical services, equipment, supplies and public health education at IHS direct service, tribally operated, and urban Indian health care facilities; more funding for purchased/referred care; and resources for telehealth services, electronic health records improvement, and disease surveillance by tribal epidemiology centers. The IHS has struggled to meet the healthcare needs of its patient population due to lack of adequate funding, staffing shortages, and remote locations, all of which are problems exacerbated by COVID-19.  The surge of funding provided by the CARES Act will help the IHS manage the challenges of COVID-19 in facilities serving Indian country.

    To help tribes address these problems directly, the CARES Act include $125 million in grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is allocated to tribes to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.

    A further $15 million is available to tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations or tribal health or behavioral health service providers to respond to the coronavirus.

    Another $15 million is allocated under the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to tribes for COVID-19 response.

    Finally, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Program will receive $25 million, which will go toward initial capital assets for equipment (e.g., video conferencing equipment, computers) that operate via telecommunications to rural end-users of telemedicine and distance learning. Broadband facilities (if owned by the applicant) are also eligible. Federally recognized tribes are eligible to apply for DLT grants.


    The Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations through the U.S. Department of Agriculture will receive $100 million to provide USDA commodity foods to low-income households, including the elderly, living on Indian reservations. In addition, $50 million is authorized for costs relating to food purchases and $50 million is reserved for facilities improvements and equipment upgrades.

    Indian reservations suffer high rates of food insecurity vis-à-vis the national average. In addition, many reservations are considered food deserts, where access to fresh produce and nutrient-rich food is scarce. The CARES Act provides a further $20 million for the delivery of nutrition services to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiian elders under the Older Americans Act.

    Related to nutrition and the availability of healthy food, diabetes remains a dire problem in many Indian communities. Under the CARES Act, mandatory funding for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians is extended at FY2020 levels (i.e., $150 million per year) through November 2020.


    The Department of Education is authorized to waive provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, except civil rights laws, that are necessary and appropriate due to the COVID-19 declaration of disaster for all Bureau of Indian Education schools, including tribal self-determination or “638” contract schools and tribal “297 grant schools.

    The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) will receive $69 million for response needs at BIE-funded schools.

    Further, BIE funded programs will receive a 0.5% ($153.75 million) set-aside.

    For the Indian Child Care Development Block Grant, the CARES Act provides between $70 million$96 million for Indian child care programs serving low-income families, including for continued payments to child care providers during center closures and to provide emergency child care for health care workers, emergency responders and other COVID-19 “front line” workers.

    American Indian and Alaska Native students will get the same benefits as all other students with federal loans.

    Housing and Technology

    Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Native American Programs, the CARES Act provides $200 million for the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHADSA) Block Grant program with a formula designed to assist Tribally Designated Housing Entities most in need of funding related to COVID-19 response. An additional $100 million is provided for the Indian Community Development Block Grant to respond to COVID-19 in tribal communities.

    Infrastructure development of housing and utilities in Indian Country lags far behind other American communities. Indian country needs approximately 68,000 additional housing units, while current funding provides only about 1,000 units to be built per year. Further, 9% of housing on Indian reservations and 25% of housing in Alaska Native villages still lack complete plumbing or running water compared to an average of .5% for the country. Overcrowded homes also remain a major issue, which could contribute to the spread of COVID-19—14% of Indians living on reservations and 27% of Natives in Alaska villages live in overcrowded conditions, compared to 3% across the country.

    In addition to funds for Indian Housing Block Grants, the CARES Act allocates a further $100 million for the Broadband Loan and Grant Program authorized by section 779 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

    Next Steps

    Once the CARES Act is signed into law, the next step will be to work with various federal agencies to ensure that funding is provided in a timely and well-organized manner. Each agency will be required to come up with regulatory guidance regarding how to apply for available funds, as well as mechanisms to push funding out to eligible applicants. We will continue to provide input into these processes as agencies begin to implement the CARES Act.

    Information is changing daily and some of the content included in this alert may have changed or been updated since publication.

    Click here to read more Brownstein alerts on the legal issues the coronavirus threat raises for businesses.


    This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding funding provisions in the CARES Act related to Indian tribes and citizens. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this document or if you need legal advice as to an issue, please contact the attorneys listed or your regular Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP attorney. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions.

  • Tribal Water Issues: Indian Water Law 101
    Speaker, Arizona Water Law Conference, Scottsdale, AZ, August 1-2, 2019

  • FCC Sets Aside Airwaves for Rural Tribal Areas
    Brownstein Client Alert, July 22, 2019

  • Practical Tips for Indian Water Settlements
    Speaker, Tribal Water in the Southwest, Law Seminars International, Laveen, AZ, March 8, 2019

  • Shawnee Tribe Receives Go-ahead for Oklahoma Gaming Facility
    Co-author, Casino Journal, May 1, 2018

  • The Ethics of Lobbying
    Presenter, American Bar Association's 35th Water Law Conference, March 29, 2017

  • Possible Impacts of Trump Administration on Tribal Recognition
    Co-author, Law360, February 2, 2017

  • How Will the Trump Administration Address Acquiring Off-Reservation Land for Gaming?
    Co-Author,, January 23, 2017

  • Bishop Criteria: The Future Of Indian Water Settlements
    Author, Law360, January 10, 2017

  • The Bishop Letter and What it Means
    Speaker, Tribal Water Law, CLE International, Las Vegas, NV, September 29, 2016

  • Water Supply and Quality Challenges Facing Arizona Tribes - The Federal Laws and Policies that Gave Rise to These Conditions
    Speaker, Arizona Water Law Conference, Scottsdale, AZ, August 11-12, 2016

  • Moving Bills Through Congress
    Speaker, Tribal Water Law, CLE International, San Diego, CA, October 23, 2015

  • Tribal Water Leasing
    Speaker, 23rd Annual Arizona Water Law Conference, CLE International, Scottsdale, AZ, August 21, 2015

  • Flawed Federal Oversight Hinders Tribal Energy Development
    Co-Author, Law360, June 26, 2015

  • 2015 Washington Outlook
    Brownstein Client Alert, Feb. 2, 2015

  • Tribal Groundwater Issues in California
    Speaker, 48th Annual Mid-Pacific Region Water Users' Conference, Reno, NV, January 21, 2015

  • Prospects for Indian Water Rights Settlements in Congress
    Presenter, Tribal Water Law - Perspectives from DC and around the West, CLE International, Las Vegas, NV, October 16, 2014

  • Legislative Advocacy and the Law
    Speaker, ASU College of Law - DC Program, Washington, DC, October 6, 2014

  • Indian Water Settlements and Tribal Water Leasing
    Speaker and Program Co-Chair, 2nd Annual Tribal Natural Resources Law Conference, CLE International, San Diego, CA, August 7-8, 2014

  • Tribal Water Leasing
    Author, The Water Report, Issue #125, July 15, 2014

  • Recent Supreme Court Decision Bars State from Suing Tribe Seeking to Operate an Illegal Off-Reservation Casino
    Brownstein Client Alert, June 3, 2014

  • Current Trends with Respect to Indian Reserved Rights and Congressionally-Approved Water Rights Settlements
    Speaker, Tribal Water in California Conference, Law Seminars International, Cabazon, CA, March 17, 2014

  • Supreme Court Ruling Represents Major Shift for Railroad Rights of Way
    Brownstein Client Alert, Law360, March 14, 2014

  • 2014 Washington Outlook
    Brownstein Client Alert, January 30, 2014

  • Native American Water Rights Settlements: Looking Back and Moving Forward
    Panelist, Indian Water Rights Settlements Panel Discussion, American Water Resources Association, National Capital Region Section, Washington, DC, November 21, 2013

  • Tribal Water Law 101: The Basics of Indian Reserved Water Rights and Congressional Water Rights Settlement Processes
    Speaker, Tribal Water in the Southwest, Law Seminars International, Scottsdale, AZ, November 18-19, 2013

  • Proposed Carbon Rules for New Power Plants: What They Are and What They Mean
    Brownstein Client Alert, September 20, 2013

  • Moving Tribal Natural Resources Legislation Through Congress

    Co-Chair and Speaker, Tribal Natural Resources Law Conference, CLE International, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 22-23, 2013

  • Decision Made Concerning Red River Compact
    Brownstein Client Alert, June 25, 2013

  • Obama's Climate Change Agenda Revealed
    Brownstein Client Alert, June 25, 2013

  • Tribal Water Rights in Practice - What They Mean in the US and How They Work in DC
    Speaker, Tribal Water Law Conference, Cutting Edge Insights & Information, Las Vegas, NV, May 2-3, 2013

  • Tribal Claims to the Colorado River
    The Water Report, March 15, 2013

  • Tribal Water Rights – Claims to Mainstream Colorado River Water
    Speaker, 15th Annual Conference for the Law of the Colorado River, Las Vegas, NV, March 14, 2013

  • Brownstein Plays a Key Role in the Passage of the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act
    Brownstein Client Alert

  • Indian Water Rights
    Presentation, Western Water Law Conference, The Most Current & Critical Issues Facing the West, November 15, 2012, Las Vegas, NV

  • Moving Tribal Water Settlements Through the US Congress
    Tribal Water Law (A National Perspective) Conference, June 22, 2012, Las Vegas, NV

  • Arizona Indian Water Law 101 CLE Conference
    Presentation, Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, October 21, 2011, Tempe, AZ

  • Symposium on the Settlement of Indian Reserved Water Rights Claims
    Western State Water Council and Native American Rights Fund, August 23-25, 2011, Billings, MT

  • Indian Water Settlements Outlook for the 112th Congress and Beyond
    The Water Report, August 15, 2011

  • Forward, Symposium, Water Law and Policy Conference

  • A Look at Tribal Water Rights and Settlements
    Chapter Co-Author, Emerging Issues in Tribal-State Relations, Inside the Minds, 2016 ed.

  • J.D., 1998, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
  • B.A., 1995, magna cum laude, Arizona State University
  • District of Columbia
  • Arizona
  • U.S. District Court, District of Arizona
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, District of Columbia

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