New Law Ratifies Tribe-Water Agency Settlement

An ongoing water dispute between the Soboba Tribe and residents of Riverside County, Calif., ended in late July with the passage and presidential approval of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act.

The act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), resolves a lawsuit that was pending in the U.S. District Court in California for years – Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Among its provisions, the law provides long-term sustainability of the San Jacinto River Valley's water supply by bringing new sources of water to local residents. Additionally, the act assists both the Tribe and local residents with critical water infrastructure needs, according to Bono Mack.

The legislator introduced the bill on Dec, 19, 2007, and a hearing was held a few months later, in which Bono Mack and Soboba Chair Robert Salgado testified. On May 21, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill, moving it forward with a voice vote. The Senate passed Bono Mack's bill by unanimous consent on July 23, and sent it to the President for his signature.

"This is a historic moment for the Soboba Tribe and our entire community," said Bono Mack. "After over 75 years of hardship, legal battles, and negotiation, this law will bring much-deserved relief to those who have been so significantly impacted by water deprivation and ongoing litigation.

"Water is essential to building and sustaining a community. Now that this bill has been signed into law, the Tribe and the San Jacinto Valley will benefit from new sources of water and a consensus-based solution to a very difficult situation," she said.

In 1932, Metropolitan Water District's San Jacinto Tunnel was constructed to transport water from the Colorado River to portions of Southern California. Leakage into the Tunnel, however, drained the water from the wells on the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians' reservation. The lawsuit, filed in April 2000, sought damages and injunctive relief for the continuing drainage of water from the Tribe's Reservation into the Tunnel.

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