Feinstein, Padilla Introduce Legislation to Enact Water Settlement between Tule River Tribe and United States
Sep 20 2022
Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.) have introduced legislation to formally recognize the Tule River Tribe’s reserved water rights and quantify the tribe’s water right of 5,828 acre-feet/year of surface water from the South Fork of the Tule River. For decades, the Tule River Tribe has worked with the federal government and downstream water users to advance a settlement agreement, thereby avoiding costly litigation for both the tribe and the United States government. This legislation would fulfill the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to the Tule River Tribe by ensuring that the tribe is able to access the water resources they were promised and to provide clean drinking water to their people.
“The Tule River Tribe – the second largest tribe in California with more than 1,900 members – often lacks enough drinking water during the summer and is forced to import bottled water for basic household needs. This is unacceptable, especially considering the tribe has been working for decades to restore sufficient water on its reservation,” Senator Feinstein said. “I’m happy to support Senator Padilla’s bill to codify a settlement between the Tule River Tribe, the Interior Department and downstream water users of the tribe’s federally reserved water rights that date back nearly 150 years.”
“Water is a sacred and necessary resource for Tribal Nations and for all people,” said Senator Padilla. “As California and the West continue to experience a historic megadrought, my bill would help provide water security to Tule River citizens now and for generations to come. It is long past time for the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to the Tule River Tribe. We must codify this water settlement and ensure the continued strength of Tribal Nations now and into the future.”
“The Tule River Tribe applauds Senator Padilla and Senator Feinstein for introducing S. 4870, the Tule River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022, which resolves precisely 100 years of water claims by the Tule River Tribe while providing certainty of our right to clean water,” said Neil Peyron, Chairman of the Tule River Tribe. “The bill captures decades of hard work on a real solution in our drought-stricken homelands and is also beneficial to our neighbors, the downstream agricultural community, that depend on the South Fork of the Tule River. Our senators listened and agree that Tule River's water crisis must end in 2022.”
In 1971, the tribe began its efforts to secure its federally reserved water rights to be able to restore water on their reservation. The tribe extensively studied possible storage options and entered into an agreement with downstream water users to ensure that their proposed storage project would not adversely impact their water; this was known as the 2007 Settlement Agreement. This legislation would ratify that agreement and is supported by the downstream water users. It would also transfer nearly 10,000 acres of federal lands in the Sequoia National Forest into trust so that the tribe can manage the headwaters of the watershed.
Full text of the bill is available here.