1949-2012

Bill Swan was a lawyer for the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was lead negotiator for the federal government in the water rights quantification and settlement for numerous Native American Tribes and instrumental in quantifying water allotments for Arizona.

Bill Swan: Seeing the Big Picture

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

Water in the west is complicated, and few people have been fortunate enough to have the multi-faceted perspective of Bill Swan. As an attorney with the US Department of the Interior, he saw it all.

“Because I represented the Bureau [U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)], I had to understand, at the time, the California mess, the Nevada mess, the Arizona mess, the Mexico mess and deal with all of it,“ he said. “I got the big picture.”

His work was fueled by a true love of water, and it’s one that started young, where as a teen in Arizona, he spent many days at a stream with a fishing rod and sack lunch.

“I was always attracted to the water side of Arizona,” said Swan. “I always wanted to go where the streams were, the lakes were, try and do a little fishing. If it had to do with water I was there.”

So after graduating from law school, he started attending meetings about CAP because he found them interesting; fascinated with the fact that they were going to flood an Indian Reservation. In 1977, he joined US Department of the Interior’s Field Solicitor’s Office, beginning his career in natural resources, water and tribal law.

Right off the bat, he stated working on tribal matters, especially related to water, and became an authority. So when the tribal issues started to bump up against SRP, Swan was the point person.

“As their main lawyer, from sort of a water or water management perspective, I had to learn the Law of the Colorado River,” Swan said. “So that’s how I got into this whole thing and started learning piece by piece, not only all the players…but how do they do it, how do they get along, sort of the structure of the California system, Arizona and the building of the CAP, and all of that, rights along the river and also issues with Mexico.”

Swan spent nearly 20 years working for the US Department of the Interior before moving into private practice, staying close to water through his work focusing primarily on issues related to the seven Colorado River Basin States.

Read Bill Swan's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Bill Swan's Interview - Part 1, Part 2