Tule River to finalize water rights after 100 years

Senate looks to pass bill that will give Tule River Indian Tribe $518 million in water project funds and finalize water claims

WASHINGTON D.C. – A century has passed since the Tule River Indian Tribe has sought water rights, and now years of advocacy may pay off if senate bill 4870 is approved.

U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced Senate Bill 4870, which would finally recognize the Tule River Indian Tribe’s water rights after 100 years of water claims. The bill would not only finalize the water settlement between the reservation and the U.S, but also give the Tule reservation $518 million for water projects, which would finally fulfill the federal government’s treaty responsibilities. The bill was introduced to the Senate on Sept. 19.

“[The bill] resolves precisely 100 years of water claims by the Tule River Tribe while providing certainty of our right to clean water,” Tule River chairman Neil Peyron said in a statement. “The bill captures decades of hard work on a real solution in our drought-stricken homelands and is also beneficial to our neighbors.”

Senator Padilla’s bill, also known as the Tule River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022, would ratify water settlements that were made in 2007 between the Tule tribe and downstream water users, such as agricultural communities that depend on watersheds from the same river that Tule depends on. The bill would add 5,828 acre-feet of surface water for the tribe every year from the South Fork of the Tule River, this is because the reservation would be allowed to store water from the river..

Additionally, if the bill passed, $518 million from the U.S. Treasury would be deposited into the “Tule River Tribe Water Development Projects Account” that will aid in fixing water infrastructure. This amount is far above the $30 million the tribe had initially asked legislators for earlier this year. The Treasury would also deposit $50 million into the Tule River Tribe OM&R Account, which funds any ongoing activity or maintenance of these water projects, the bill stated. Lastly, the bill would put 10,000 acres of land from the Sequoia National Forest into a trust for the Tule tribe so that they can, “manage the headwaters of the watershed,” according to Padilla’s press release.

“Water is a sacred and necessary resource for Tribal Nations and for all people,” Senator Padilla said in a statement. “It is long past time for the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to the Tule River Tribe.”

This comes after years of wells running dry on the reservation every summer since 2013. The Tule River Reservation recently appealed to the California legislature requesting $6.6 million to fix the water reservoir and water treatment center, as many in the community have little to no access to water for drinking, hygiene and sanitation. Measures to remedy the lack of water access have even gone as far as moving the Eagle Mountain Casino in fall 2022.

Though grants have helped alleviate some needs in the past, there has been no permanent solution to the tribe’s water crisis granted by the state. As a result of the recent water shortage, the Tule tribe has had to truck in water and donate bottled water to residents. During the summer, when water supply is the lowest, government buildings and residential houses run dry, and residents are unable to bathe, cook nor have access to clean drinking water. It has caused a housing shortage that prevents many tribal members from moving onto the reservation, resulting in a waitlist of over 200 members.

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