SAN JACINTO, Calif. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today praised an historic settlement agreement with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians that resolves decades of litigation over the water rights of the Southern California tribe and bolsters regional efforts to achieve sustainable water management and habitat restoration.
“This settlement not only corrects an historic wrong that drastically depleted the tribe’s surface and ground water supplies, but also provides a future roadmap for sustainable water management in the over-drafted San Jacinto River Basin,” Kempthorne said at a ceremony celebrating enactment of the negotiated agreement. President Bush signed The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act (Public Law 110-297) on July 31, 2008.
“This agreement is the latest example of the Bush Administration's commitment to resolve water disputes through settlements with tribal sovereigns and other partners,” Kempthorne said. “Rather than seeking a court-ordered remedy, you were able to go beyond zero-sum battles over a disappearing and precious groundwater resource.”
Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who championed the negotiated approach and was the chief sponsor of the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, said the legislation demonstrates what can be accomplished by working together.
"This is an historic moment for the Tribe and the entire region, as we can now benefit from better water reliability and an end to decades of litigation,” said Bono Mack. “I applaud the Soboba Tribe, our water districts and local leaders for investing so much of their time and efforts into bringing a positive resolution to this situation, and I thank Secretary Kempthorne for his support of this settlement agreement and for recognizing its significance to our community."
Tribal Chairman Robert Salgado Sr. said the Soboba people are honored that the President has signed this bill into law. “Its been a very long negotiation, and we thank our former tribal chairmen and council members who fought so hard for this, leaving us to merely dot the i’s and cross the
t’s,” Salgado said.
“We will cherish this water as a very precious commodity, and look forward to using it in a very positive and sacred way that benefits not only the tribe but the entire San Jacinto Valley. The success of this settlement demonstrates what can be accomplished when multiple agencies work together for the common good of all. We hope and pray this to be an example to everyone.”
Kempthorne commended Congresswomen Bono Mack and Council Chairman Salgado for their support and commitment to the process. “Rep. Bono Mack helped to build the consensus that made this settlement possible by playing a critical role in helping to achieve a positive resolution to this issue,” Kempthorne said. “Chairman Salgado had the vision, leadership and patience to see this long journey through to its successful end. He led the Council in its mission to protect their water rights and reestablish the Band’s water supply. And he worked to resolve these outstanding issues through negotiation.”
Kempthorne said a “tipping point” in this settlement was the Soboba’s decision to forbear use of some of its water rights for 50 years. “By agreeing to
gradually phase in increased water use over the next half century, the Soboba have provided the Eastern Municipal Water District and the Lake Hemet
Municipal Water District the time to develop and implement a groundwater management plan to cure the current overdraft in the San Jacinto Basin,”
Under this settlement, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will deliver 7,500 acre-feet of water a year for the next 30 years to the
Eastern Water District and Lake Hemet. This will enable the water agencies to recharge the San Jacinto groundwater basin to help fulfill the Soboba
Band’s water rights and terminate chronic groundwater overdrafts. The plan will eventually put pumping from the basin on a safe-yield basis, where no
more water is taken out of the aquifer than is restored through natural and artificial recharge.
The settlement provisions for recharge and restoration of the San Jacinto Basin aquifer also restore local groundwater for the non-Indian community and enabled the development of several communities and thousands of acres of residential and commercial land.
The Soboba’s forbearance has a monetary value of more than $58 million, which helped to make the value of the non-federal contribution to this
settlement more than $80 million, Kempthorne pointed out. “That’s about four times the federal cost share of $21 million,” he said. “This contribution,
combined with the federal financial support, was key to convincing the three water districts to agree to their significant contributions.”
Under the Act, the Soboba will receive the following:
- an adequate and secure future water supply (9,000 acre-feet per year);
- $18 million from some of the water districts for economic development;
- $11 million from the federal government for water development; and
- 128 acres of land near Diamond Valley Lake for commercial development.
Soboba’s neighbors, including the water districts, will receive the following:
- final resolution of Soboba’s water rights and damage claims by terminating a lawsuit;
- 7,500 acre-feet of new imported water until at least 2035;
- $10 million in federal funds to help recharge the aquifer with the imported water;
- up to 100 acres of Soboba reservation land for endangered species habitat;
- up to 4,900 acre-feet of Soboba water for 50 years for basin restoration; and
- new jobs and economic stimulus from Soboba commercial development.
The settlement brings to a close more than 150 years of conflict and struggle between the Soboba Band, which occupies a 6,000-acre reservation, and its neighbors over the San Jacinto River Basin’s limited water resources.