Padilla, Feinstein Bill to Provide Water Security for Tule River Tribe Advances in the Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation authored by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) to formally recognize the Tule River Tribe’s water rights advanced out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs yesterday. The committee unanimously voted to approve the Tule River Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act of 2023, which would quantify the Tribe’s reserved water right at 5,828 acre-feet/year of surface water from the South Fork of the Tule River. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.

“As California and the West continue to experience extreme weather and severe droughts, our bill would help provide water security for the Tule River Tribe now and for generations to come,” said Senator Padilla. “It is long past time for the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to the Tule River Tribe. Today, we are one step closer to codifying this water settlement and ensuring the continued strength of Tribal Nations.”

This legislation would fulfill the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to the Tule River Tribe by ensuring that the Tribe is able to access the water resources they were promised and to provide clean drinking water to their people.

For decades, the Tule River Tribe has worked with the federal government and downstream water users to advance a settlement agreement, thereby avoiding costly and adversarial litigation for both the tribe and the United States government. In 1971, the Tribe began its efforts to secure its federally reserved water rights to be able to restore water on their reservation.

The Tribe extensively studied possible storage options and entered into an agreement with downstream water users to ensure that their proposed storage project would not adversely impact their water; this was known as the 2007 Settlement Agreement. This legislation would ratify that agreement and is supported by the downstream water users. It would also transfer nearly 10,000 acres of federal lands in the Sequoia National Forest into trust so that the Tribe can manage the headwaters of the watershed.

Full text of the bill, which was advanced out of committee, is available here.

For more information about the hearing, click here.


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