WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne yesterday signed the final documentation, completing the historic settlement agreement with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians and resolving decades of litigation over the water rights of the Southern California tribe.
The agreement, which was authorized through an Act of Congress in late August, bolsters regional efforts to achieve sustainable water management and habitat restoration in the over-drafted San Jacinto River Basin.
“This agreement 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. “The settlement illustrates how negotiated agreements among Indian Tribes, States, local parties, and the Federal Government can resolve reserved water right claims, provide assured water supplies for present and future tribal generations, and wisely manage an increasingly scarce resource.”
Kempthorne commended Rep. Mary Bono Mack (CA-45) and tribal leaders for their support and commitment to the process. Bono Mack championed the negotiated approach and was the chief sponsor of the legislation (H.R. 4841) in the House of Representatives. The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act (Public Law 110-297) on July 31, 2008.
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 Eastern 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 enable 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.”