Feds ink water rights deal with Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Mark Macarro, Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, on Nov. 29 signed the Pechanga Water Rights Settlement Agreement, officials announced recently.
The move reportedly executes a Congressionally authorized pact that protects the Pechanga Band’s access to groundwater in the region and provides the tribe with more than $30 million in federal funding to pay for water storage projects.
“The Pechanga Band has tirelessly pursued the quantification of its water rights and, through negotiations, engaged its neighbors in a multiyear process of building mutual trust and understanding,” Macarro said in a statement. “Generations of tribal leaders have fought from the courts to Capitol Hill to protect this vital resource for future generations.
“This settlement agreement benefits all of the parties by securing adequate water supplies for the Pechanga Band and its members and encouraging cooperative water resources management among all of the parties.”
According to a news release from Zinke’s office, the agreement “quantifies the water rights claims for the Pechanga Band in Southern California’s Temecula Valley, which had been pending in an adjudication dating back to the 1950s; resolves potential liability for both the United States and other parties; and establishes a cooperative and efficient water management regime involving Pechanga and local agencies.”
“The Federal Government has a critical responsibility to uphold our trust responsibilities, especially Tribal water rights,” Zinke said in a statement. “This is why we are continuing to work on Indian Water Settlements with Tribes, States, and all water users to ensure there is certainty for all and an opportunity for economic development in local communities.”
Zinke commended the congressional sponsors of the Settlement Act legislation, saying they “fought to bring these settlements across the finish line.”
The agreement — introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert, (R-Corona) — “settles competing claims involving the Rancho California Water District and the Eastern Municipal Water District, which both draw from the large aquifer in the region that stretches 750 square miles from Southwest Riverside County to north San Diego County,” according to the news release.
“For the tribe, local community, and the many federal employees who have contributed to these settlements, seeing these agreements signed is the culmination of years of dedication and hard work,” Zinke stated. “I think we all recognize that this is just the start of the journey toward settlement finality.”
“The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, as well as all of the parties to this settlement, deserve to have some certainty on the future of their water supply,” Rep. Calvert said in an additional statement.
The Agreement in part establishes the Pechanga Settlement Fund and authorizes the appropriation of about $3 million in federal funds to construct a storage pond. It also authorizes about $26 million, with about $4 million in construction overrun costs, to build interim and permanent capacity for water storage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.