Mar 05, 2007

Soboba Settlement Bill Introduced in Congress

After almost sixty years of continuous litigation and negotiation, Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-Calif.) today introduced the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians Settlement Act to approve a comprehensive settlement that will quantify Soboba's water rights and provide an assured water supply for the Band's 6,000-acre reservation.

“The introduction of this legislation is a significant moment for the
Southern California region, which relies so heavily on water resources,” stated Bono. “This legislation takes the critical step to put into place a long-term plan that ensures the future water supply of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians and all of the San Jacinto Valley.” The bill is cosponsored by Congressmen Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Joe Baca (D-Calif.), and Dale Kildee (D-Mich.)

Together with a water management plan being developed by the area's non- Indian water users, this historic settlement will also protect the water resources of the San Jacinto valley in Riverside County, California, from further depletion and ensure a water supply for present and future non-Indian use.

When approved by Congress and the president, the settlement will bring to a close almost 150 years of conflict and struggle among the U.S., the Soboba Band, San Jacinto basin water users and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. It will do so in a way that ensures not only the future of the Soboba people, but also the water supply for all of the valley's inhabitants.

According to Soboba Tribal Chairman Robert J. Salgado, Sr., “This has been a very long, hard struggle going back into the nineteenth century. The tribe has been very patient and is happy to see this conflict and litigation at last come to an end. Soboba tribal leaders have been trying to protect our water rights and recover our water supply from unlawful non-Indian appropriation since at least the beginning of the last century. It is an historic day for Soboba and for the entire valley. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to our Congressional sponsors, all three water districts, the federal government and everyone who has worked so hard all these years to make this happen.”

In addition to the Soboba Band and Metropolitan, which supplies water to Los Angeles and San Diego, the settlement involves the Eastern and Lake
Hemet Municipal Water Districts, serving Soboba's non-Indian neighbors in the San Jacinto River valley. The parties signed the formal settlement agreement in a ceremony last June at the Soboba Reservation.

The settlement will also terminate litigation against Metropolitan and
Eastern in Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians v. The Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California, filed by Soboba in April 2000. That lawsuit sought damages and injunctive relief for the continuing drainage of water from the Soboba Reservation into Metropolitan's nearby San Jacinto Tunnel, which began when the tunnel was constructed in the 1930s. Key to the settlement is Metropolitan's delivery of 7,500 acre-feet per year of water for the next 30 years to Eastern and Lake Hemet, who will use the water to recharge the San Jacinto groundwater basin to help fulfill the Band's water rights and terminate chronic groundwater overdrafts.

Soboba has agreed to phase in its increased water use gradually over the first 50 years of the settlement. This will assist the two local water districts in the development and implementation of a groundwater management plan designed to cure the current overdraft of the San Jacinto basin. The plan will eventually put pumping from the basin on a safe-yield basis, where no more water is being taken out of the aquifer than is being restored through natural and artificial recharge.

The bill introduced by Congresswoman Bono will approve the settlement agreement and provide $21 million in federal funding for water infrastructure improvements for the Soboba Band and the groundwater management plan.