Officials sign principles to resolve 33-year dispute, paving way for California Colorado River water plan

Oct. 16, 2002
Officials of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the city of Escondido, Vista Irrigation District and five Native American tribes signed principles for a landmark water agreement.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16, 2002 -- Settlement of a 34-year-old water rights dispute and implementation of a California plan for reduced use of Colorado River water came a step closer Tuesday as officials of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the city of Escondido, Vista Irrigation District and five Native American tribes signed principles for a landmark agreement.

To resolve the dispute over water from the San Luis Rey River in San Diego County, Metropolitan has agreed in principle to provide the tribes with 16,000 acre-feet of water a year, which would be purchased from or exchanged with the Department of the Interior. The water from Metropolitan would be supplemented by local supplies that have been the subject of long-pending litigation.

"Metropolitan is very pleased to see this long-term matter nearing resolution and to clear another roadblock to arriving at a California plan for Colorado River water use," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, Metropolitan general counsel, at a document signing ceremony at MWD headquarters.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles, who joined dozens of participants at the ceremonial event, said, "The agreement on these principles represents a significant step toward the fulfillment of a decades-old promise to secure a permanent source of water for the Pala, Pauma, Rincon, San Pasqual and La Jolla reservations.

"I am delighted that the principles of this agreement not only moves us a step closer to a solution for Southern California water, but also is a significant step in securing benefits for these tribes that have waited such a long time," Griles said.

Bob Pelcyger, attorney for the San Luis Rey River Indian Water Authority, said, "This is a tremendously important agreement and an important day for the San Luis Rey Indian Tribes. This agreement represents a missing piece of the puzzle that dates back 100 years and it lays the basis for water to be delivered to the reservations."

Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler said, "We are excited about this joint endeavor with the United States government, the Metropolitan Water District, and our friends from the local Indian bands. These principles pave the way to solve long-standing issues over Indian and local water rights, and allow conserved water to be used to benefit our city and the Indian bands."

The water-rights dispute stretches back to at least 1969, when the Rincon and La Jolla bands filed suit in federal District Court and also filed claims before the Federal Power Commission, maintaining that a dam built across the San Luis Rey River by Escondido and Vista Irrigation District, to develop water and power, illegally took water granted to the tribes by the federal government.

Bills to enact a settlement were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1985-88 by then-Rep. Ron Packard (R-Vista) and by former U.S. Sens. Pete Wilson and Alan Cranston. A law allowing settlement water to come from lining portions of the All American and Coachella canals was signed on Nov. 17, 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.

Amendment of the law in 2000 and completion of the Coachella Canal Lining Project environmental impact statement in 2001 helped to clear the way for settlement implementation.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a consortium comprised of 27 cities and water agencies serving nearly 17 million people in six counties. The District imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water-recycling, desalination, conservation, storage, and other water-management programs.

Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

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