Skip to main content

California considers reservations in water plan

SACRAMENTO – California’s water agency is for the first time including tribal input in the development of its water policy plan, a vital set of guiding principles and course of actions for the thirsty state.

The state’s Department of Water Resources is organizing at least six scoping meetings with tribes across the state to let them have their say in local water issues and to report their usage rate, supply and environmental impacts. The meetings will lead up to one tribal water summit later this year with the information to be included in the California Water Plan, which has been updated every five years since 1957.

“It’s a really big deal that we are talking to tribes,” said Barbara Cross, the tribal liaison for the department’s Tribal Communication Committee, a body in place for just 16 months.

The outreach has been well received.

“We are pleased that, at long last, the state finally recognizes the priority water rights of Indian Tribal Governments,” said Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Chairman Richard M. Milanovich in an e-mail.

Cross said that to improve the state’s readiness input from tribes is needed and historically there had been a dearth of reservation input.

“We assumed that federal agencies were taking care of tribes and we found that is not always true,” Cross said, adding that tribes unrecognized by the BIA often fall through the gaps and that other government entities typically don’t consider neighboring reservations in their water plans. “They drew a line around the Indian communities as though they didn’t exist.”

She said the committee sent invitations to all of California’s 170 tribes including those not federally recognized.

The first meeting was scheduled for March 4 in Weldon, Calif. According to Cross, the California Water Plan sets water policy for the next 20 to 30 years.