U.S. Water News Online
LOS ANGELES -- A Riverside County Indian tribe and three
water districts announced the tentative settlement of a 7-decade-old
water rights dispute.
The deal, which requires final approval by Congress, would resolve
a federal lawsuit by the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians and give the
tribe $28 million, 127.7 acres of land and rights to 9,000 acre feet
of water a year.
The tribe has long complained that an aqueduct that passes near
its reservation carrying Colorado River water to Southern California
has dried up its land. Water seeps through the porous walls of the
13-mile Metropolitan Water District tunnel, draining creeks and
The long-running dispute threatened to disrupt water supplies in
the fast-growing San Jacinto Valley.
``The settlement is a win-win situation,'' said tribal attorney
Karl E. Johnson. ``It's the product of a lot of hard work by so many
people that manages to address the concerns and needs not only of the
Soboba tribe, but of all the water users in a basin that is currently
``Agreement on the principles of this tentative settlement
represents an important step forward,'' MWD board Chairman Phillip J.
Pace said in a statement.
Under the settlement the Sobobas would receive $17 million from
the Eastern Municipal Water District and Lake Hemet Municipal Water
District and $11 million from the federal government. Another $10
million in federal funds would be used to help construct a local
groundwater recharge project.
The 800-member Soboba tribe has had water problems on its
5,000-acre reservation since white settlers started diverting water
from the San Jacinto River in the 1880s. Groundwater pumping further
depleted the tribe's water and by 1910 tribal members were struggling
The Sobobas drilled wells but when the MWD built its 16-foot-high
concrete tunnel in the 1930s new problems started.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs tried unsuccessfully to
negotiate a settlement through the 1940 and 1950s. A lawsuit from
that period was settled in 1991 with the tribe receiving $12 million
from the federal government, but the tribe still maintained it was
losing water to MWD.
In 2000 the tribe sued in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles,
seeking an injunction requiring MWD to repair the tunnel, or payments
for its losses over the decades. Tribal leaders and water district
officials have been negotiating since then to reach the new
The settlement could mean that some tribal members who moved away
because the land could not support development will return.
``This agreement would help foster economic and agricultural
development, housing, and enhance the general health and welfare of
the Soboba community,'' tribal chairman Robert Salgado said.
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