CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Thursday, September 22, 2016, the House will likely consider H.R. 1296, to amend the San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act to clarify certain settlement terms, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 1296 was introduced on March 4, 2015, by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which ordered the bill reported on February 3, 2016, by unanimous consent.
H.R. 1296 amends the San Luis Rey Indiana Water Rights Settlement Act to approve and ratify all provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2015, and approved by the parties and the United States. The Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General are authorized to execute and implement the agreement. The La Jolla, San Pasqual, Pauma, and Pala Bands of Mission Indians will continue to possess federally reserved rights and other rights held in trust by the United States. However, the U.S. shall not be a required party and any decision by the U.S. regarding participation in any such proceeding shall not be subject to judicial review or give rise to any claim for relief against the United States in these water rights claims.
In 1969, the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma, and Pala Bands of Mission Indians (the Bands) sued the City of Escondido, California and the Vista Irrigation district (Local Entities) on the grounds that the federal government improperly signed over the Bands’ water rights to the Local Entities. Decades of litigation ensued until Congress enacted the San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Act in 1988. The 1988 Settlement directed the Secretary of the Interior to provide 16,000 acre-feet of water annually to the Bands. The Settlement Act becomes effective only when the United States, the Bands, and the Local Entities enter into a settlement agreement “providing for the complete resolution of all claims, controversies, and issues involved in all the pending proceedings among the parties.”
One of the main resolution hurdles has been, until recently, whether the 16,000 acre-feet of water would be counted as supplemental water or whether it would be classified as water reserved under the Winters Doctrine, which holds that the federal government implicitly reserved water rights sufficient to fulfill the purposes of an Indian reservation (based on the 1908 Supreme Court decision in Winters v. United States). In January 2015, the parties signed a settlement agreement that stipulated that the 16,000 acre-feet of water would be deemed supplemental water. This designation keeps the Bands’ Winters Doctrine rights intact, allowing them the ability to pursue those rights at a later time if necessary. However, the settlement agreement also relieved the federal government as a future supporting party to the Bands’ Winters Doctrine rights, effectively resolving some future federal liability. H.R. 1296 approves and ratifies this settlement agreement, which provides that Congressional approval is required for the agreement, and thus the settlement, to take effect.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that enacting H.R. 1296 would increase net direct spending by $18 million over the 2017-2026 period. The suspension text includes a change that will result in no direct spending.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.