Water for Tribal Governments

In the late 1800s, the federal government granted San Luis Rey River water rights to the cities of Vista and Escondido, depriving local tribes of water they had used for thousands of years. In essence, allocating the water rights twice.  According to Bo Mazzetti, Rincon Tribal Chairman, “The cattle were dying. The Trees were dying.” In the 1960s the tribes sued, leading to a final settlement that was eventually agreed upon 50 years later.

As a member of the Escondido City Council, I was involved in helping solve this issue and extremely happy that the settlement resulted in restoration of water rights for the Rincon, Pala, Pauma, San Pasqual and La Jolla tribes, as well as the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority (SLRIWA). The tribes won back their water rights, and through an agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, Escondido and Vista were also guaranteed a steady supply of Colorado River Water. It was the perfect solution to a longstanding, highly contentious issue. As Mark Twain said, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.” Fortunately, in this case, there were no winners or losers.

But more help is needed. I recently joined Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D - Coachella) and I sent a letter to the Governor requesting that funding for water projects by the SLRIWA be included in this year’s budget. The SLRIWA, the oldest Indian Water Authority in the United States, is requesting the funding for local infrastructure projects, and for equipment and support for local tribes that will guarantee their continued recovery and restoration of desperately needed resources. This is especially important now as we enter another drought. Legislation allocating $15 million to the San Luis Rey Water Authority for infrastructure, equipment, access, and restoration is on the Governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

Using California’s current surplus to fund water infrastructure should be a top priority.