H.R. 3254: Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Act

H.R. 3254

Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Act

Sponsor
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

Date
January 21, 2010 (111th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3254 (along with two similar bills) on Thursday, January 21, 2010, under a structured rule (H.R. 1017) which provides for separate consideration of all three bills.  Each bill is debatable for one hour and the Minority is provided one motion to recommit each bill under the rule.  The rule also provides for consideration of one Republican amendment to each bill.  A summary of the amendment made in order is available below. 

The bill was introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) on July 17, 2009, and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which reported the bill on September 30, 2009, by voice vote.

 

Bill Summary

H.R. 3254 would ratify the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement.  In addition, the bill would authorize $121 million for the infrastructure, water development, and local grants for the Taos Pueblo.

The settlement gives the Taos Pueblo water rights totaling 11,927 acre-feet per year in depletions, including 2,215 acre-feet per year from the San Juan-Chama Project.  Included in the settlement is an agreement by the Pueblo to initially abstain from using 4,678 acre-feet per year for continued non-Indian use.

The bill authorizes $30 million for the Secretary of the Interior to provide grants to the Taos Pueblo to construct and maintain water infrastructure and to restore and protect environmentally sensitive lands and watersheds.  $10 million could be available upon appropriation, and the remaining $20 million would not be available until 2017.

Under the settlement, the bill establishes the Taos Pueblo Water Development Fund within the U.S. Treasury to pay for or reimburse the costs incurred by the Pueblo.  The bill authorizes $58 million for the Water Development Fund to be available upon enactment of the agreement in 2017.  $15 million of the $58 million would be available for the purpose of purchasing water rights in the Taos Valley.

The bill also authorizes the Secretary to provide grants to local governments, other than the Taos Pueblos, for projects intended to mitigate the impact of diverting water from present uses to execute the settlement.  The federal government would be responsible for 75 percent of the costs incurred while State and local governments would cover 25%.  The bill authorizes the appropriation of $33 million for this purpose.

Background

The Taos Pueblo is located approximately 70 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, encompassing an area of approximately 100,000 acres of land, with more than 2,450 enrolled tribal members. The Supreme Court ruled in 1876 that the Taos Pueblo was not an Indian tribe within the meaning of the 1834 and 1851 Non-intercourse Acts. This meant that non-Indians were able to buy Pueblo lands without regard to federal Indian law, resulting in significant loss of Pueblo lands to non-Indians. In 1924 the Supreme Court reversed its ruling in 1876, which threw into question the legal ownership of the land and water rights of the Taos Valley. H.R. 3254 would ratify and approve the water rights claims of the Taos Pueblo agreed to in a May 2006 Settlement Agreement, and signed by the majority of water users in the Taos Valley.

Administration officials stated that the settlement placed too much of the cost burden on the federal government, while the State enjoyed most of the benefit. According to an October, 2009, letter from Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, "The Administration believes that this cost-share is disproportionate to the settlement benefits received by the State and local non-Indian parties."

In addition, Congressman McClintock, as the Ranking Republican of the House Water and Power Subcommittee stated that Congress should not be, "Just a rubber stamp" when it comes to settling Indian water rights claims particularly when tax dollars are used.

Cost

H.R. 3254 would authorize $121 million for infrastructure, water development, and local grants for the Taos Pueblo and to mitigate the impact of diverting water from present uses to execute the settlement. However, all authorized amounts may be adjusted upwards for increases in construction costs. Therefore, CBO estimates H.R. 3254 would actually cost $139 million.

Amendments

1) McClintock (R-CA): Prohibits the bill from taking effect until the Attorney General submits a letter certifying that the settlement in this bill is a net benefit to the U.S., based on the costs and risks of litigation and the odds that the Tribe would prevail in litigation.