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Salazar Announces Finalization of Soboba Tribal Water Rights Settlement

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After three years, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians has received its water settlement agreement from the United States government. On November 29, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the Soboba of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act, worth $21 million in federal funding.

The historic settlement was the final step in fulfilling promises made in 2008, when Congress approved the Act, to the Band and southern California communities.

“Today we bring to a close more than 150 years of conflict and decades of litigation between the Soboba Band and neighboring communities over the San Jacinto River Basin’s limited water resources,” said Secretary Salazar. “Thanks to collaboration among the Band, the water districts and the U.S. government, the funds we are releasing today will have a real, lasting impact when it comes to a secure water supply and spurring economic development for the Soboba nation and the neighboring communities.”

The funding from the settlement will be used to stabilize water supplies in the region and spur economic development for the Band and neighboring communities.

This settlement helps to resolve disputes and litigation that extend back to the late 1800s and multiple non-Indian water diversion from the San Jacinto River. Add to that the construction of the San Jacinto tunnel in the 1930s, which was a component of the Colorado River Aqueduct as a means of transporting water from the Colorado River to southern California. As the population continued to grow water supply was drastically affected in the region.

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Now the Soboba Band has quantified water rights and assurances of water supplies for its 6,000-acre reservation, as well as establishes a framework for the regional water management that will help to restore groundwater levels and prevent ongoing overdrafts of this important basin according to a press release by the Department of the Interior.

The funding will be split with $11 million covering the Band’s costs for important water and sewer infrastructure on its reservations and $10 million being held in the San Jacinto Restoration Fund. These funds will be available to two neighboring water districts—Lake Hemet Municipal Water District and Eastern Municipal Water District—for a groundwater restoration and recharge project.

The majority of the water, a total of 7,500 acre-feet of imported water each year through 2035, will come from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – also a party to the settlement. The San Jacinto River Basin aquifer recharge was not achieved in this litigation but provisions for it will enable the development of thousands of acres for residential and commercial land.

“This funding gets a fair resolution on Indian water rights over the finish line,” said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and I’m pleased that we can now begin a new chapter on water in this region – one marked by certainty, restoration and economic activity.”

Also in the Act are the following:

  • Soboba Band will receive a secure future water supply of 9,000 acre-feet per year;
  • $18 million from the water districts for economic development;
  • 128 acres of land near Diamond Valley Lake for commercial development;
  • Neighboring communities will receive 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.