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

Ryan is the Chair of the American Indian Law and Policy Group and represents tribes 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 Indian tribes and 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 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) and as an extern for The Honorable Brian R. Hauser of the Superior Court of Arizona.

Ryan is in demand as 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.

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
  • Provide federal representation to an Indian tribe in connection with the federal legislation, which ratifies the tribe's water compact and authorizes federal funding for the tribe's water-related infrastructure projects. (PL.114-322)

  • Organized and led coalition of third parties to successfully block a federal decision that would have negatively impacted tribal client’s business interests.

  • Successfully represented oil and gas trade association in federal district court matter related to the Endangered Species Act, resulting in dismissal of the underlying action.

  • Advocated for policy changes and funding related to water efficiency, water reuse, water supply, and groundwater management on behalf of a water agency serving nearly 4 million people.

  • On behalf of a collation of Colorado water districts, was successful in having federal legislation passed that secures approximately $3 million in annual base funding for the Upper Colorado and San Juan fish recovery programs. (PL. 112-270)

  • Represent one of the largest federal water contractors in the United States to ensure that its members have a long-term dependable supply of water to meet project purposes.

  • Represent Rosemont Copper in developing one of the largest copper mines in the world, advising the company on all aspects of obtaining NEPA and Endangered Species permitting issues.

  • Represent a major California water district in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit concerning an endangered species in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

  • Successfully represent a non-profit entity in Endangered Species Act listing litigation.

  • Provide federal representation to a major western water district in connection with a dispute over the Department of the Interior’s management of the district’s water supply.

  • Represent one of the largest water districts in the State of Arizona in connection with the NEPA review of a coal-fire powered plant.

News & Events
Publications & Presentations
  • 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