H.R. 3342: Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act

H.R. 3342

Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act

Sponsor
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

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

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3342 (along with two similar bills) on Thursday, January 21, 2010, under a structured rule (H.Res. 1017) which provides for separate consideration of all three bills.  The rule also provides for consideration of one Republican amendment to each bill. A summary of the amendment made in order is available below. 

H.R. 3342 was introduced on July 24, 2009, by Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM). The bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.  On September 9, 2009, the Subcommittee on Water and Power held a legislative hearing on the bill, and the bill, as amended, was then ordered favorably reported to the House of Representatives by voice vote.

 

Bill Summary

H.R. 3342 ratifies the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act of the Pueblos of Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, and Tesuque (the Four Pueblos).  The Settlement Agreement requires the U.S. to provide 2,500 acre-feet per year of imported water for Pueblo use and to plan, design and construct the Regional Water System that would divert and distribute water to the Four Pueblos and the Santa Fe County Water Utility.  The Pueblos and Santa Fe County would jointly operate the Regional Water System through the formation of a Regional Water Authority. The Regional Water System would provide 60 percent of its capacity and water to the Four Pueblos, with the remaining 40 percent of the water and capacity provided to and maintained by the Santa Fe County Water Utility.

 

The bill also requires the federal government to fund a number of water projects including:

  • $106 million for the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Commissioner of Reclamation, to develop water infrastructure in the Rio Grande Basin. The amount of the authorizations may increase based on ordinary fluctuations in construction costs since October 1, 2006, as determined using applicable engineering cost indices.
  • $5.4 million for the acquisition of water rights.
  • $15 million for the rehabilitation, improvement, operation, maintenance, and replacement of the agricultural delivery facilities, waste water systems, and other water-related infrastructure of the applicable Pueblo. This amount would also be adjusted upwards for any increases in construction costs.
  • $37 million to assist in paying the Pueblos' share of the cost of operating, maintaining, and replacing the Pueblo Water Facilities and the Regional Water System.
  • $5 million for the acquisition of the Nambe reserved water rights. The amount authorized would be adjusted upwards for any increased construction costs. The funds provided under this section may be used by the Pueblo of Nambe only for the acquisition of land, other real property interests, or economic development.

Background

The Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso and Tesuque Pueblos ("Four Pueblos") are located in the Pojoaque River Basin, a tributary of the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. The Basin is largely rural and agricultural, although residential development is increasing.  Sources of employment include the Los Alamos National Laboratory, businesses in the City of Santa Fe, and increasingly the Pueblos or their commercial enterprises. The Pueblo of Pojoaque is the commercial hub of the Basin and commercial development along the major highway in the Basin is growing.  The Aamodt water rights claims litigation was originally filed by the U.S. on behalf of the Four Pueblos in 1966 and involves more than 2,500 defendants.  A comprehensive Settlement Agreement was signed by the State of New Mexico and affected parties in May 2006.

According to the Department of Interior (DOI), changes were made to the bill that limited the amount of funding available to construct the Pueblo Water Facilities under this Act to an amount certain, which is indexed based on construction cost fluctuations.  Some Members may be concerned that DOI has questioned the validity of the cost estimates that the settlement parties are relying on for regional water system.  The parties rely on an engineering report dated June 2007 that has not been verified by the level of study that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) would recommend in order to assure reliability.  Much of the cost information contained in the engineering report was arrived at three years ago, and according to a letter from the BOR, the total project cost estimates cannot be relied upon. 

The Administration has also expressed concern that, although the bill establishes a limit on the amount of funding that the U.S. can expend for construction of the Pueblo Water facilities, the bill allows the settlement to be voided if the water system is not completed by 2021.  According to the BOR, this nullification provision creates a risk that, even if the U.S., the county, the state, and the Pueblos all follow through on their commitments under the agreement and this bill, the settlement could fail in the event that the costs for the system turn out to be higher than the current estimates contemplate or than the authorizations allow.  This could mean a return to litigation after the expenditure of significant resources.

Cost

According to CBO, H.R. 3342 would cost $71 million over the FY 2010 to FY 2014 period and an additional $128 million thereafter.

Amendments

1) McClintock (R-CA): Prohibits the Act from taking effect until the Attorney General has submitted a formal written response to Congress that the Indian water rights settlement proposed in this Act represents a net benefit to the United States, based on the cost and risks of litigation and the odds that the Pueblo would prevail in the litigation.