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California Soon To Formally Recognize Tule River Tribe’s Water Rights

California Soon To Formally Recognize Tule River Tribe’s Water Rights


U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein introduced a piece of legislation that, if passed, will acknowledge the Tule River Tribe’s reserved water rights. By doing so, the Tule River Tribe will have more control over clean drinking water and ensure water security. 

Senate Bill 4870: An In-Depth Look 

Padilla and Feinstein’s recently introduced piece of legislation, Senate Bill 4870, was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for approval.

This bill provides over $500 million in funding to promote better water quality for the Tule River Tribe. 

More specifically, the legislation quantifies the amount of water from the portion of the Tule River the Tribe has rights to. Therefore, the Tribe would have access to clean drinking water and finally cease a multi-decade effort to control their water rights. 

How this Impacts the Tule River Tribe 

Senate Bill 4870 will essentially help provide water security for the Tule River citizens “now and for generations to come,” Padilla assures. 

With that, water security is an especially critical need for the Tule River Tribe because of their location. 

Recently, the western portion of the country has been experiencing historic droughts. And water scarcity is even more prevalent in Native American communities than in others. 

To Padilla, this Senate Bill holds the federal government accountable, forcing it to live up to its treaty responsibilities. “Water is a sacred and necessary resource for Tribal Nations and for all people,” Padilla notes. 

Given the demand for water, most say this piece of legislation and effort is long past due. “We must codify this water settlement and ensure the continued strength of Tribal Nations now and into the future,” Padilla notes. 

The Need for Water Control 

The need for Senate Bill 4870 cannot be overstated. First, the Tule River Tribe is the second-largest in California, with more than 1,900 members. 

So the lack of adequate drinking water and water scarcity is a concern for many citizens, making the matter more pressing. “This is unacceptable,” Feinstein says of the lack of clean drinking water during certain months. 

To continue, Feinstein says, “the tribe has been working for decades to restore sufficient water on its reservations.”

That said, the Tule River Tribe initially began working to secure federally reserved water rights in 1971. Over three decades, the tribe thoroughly studied potential water storage options. 

Then, in 2007, the Tule River Tribe made an agreement with downstream occupants to ensure their water storage wouldn’t adversely impact their access to clean water. 

Basically, the Tribe did extensive research to ensure they considered others who relied on the same water source. 

Praise for the New Senate Bill 

In addition to ensuring water scarcity wouldn’t continue to be a problem for the Tule River Tribe, the new bill also does other positive things. 

First, the legislation would effectively confirm the agreement the tribe has with its downstream communities. 

Additionally, it will transfer 10,000 acres of land in the Sequoia National Forest to the tribe so they can manage the headwaters of the Tule River. 

Although it hasn’t been officially passed yet, Padilla and Feinstein have already received immense praise for their proposed bill. 

Neil Peyron, the chairman of the Tule River Tribe, says the bill offers “certainty” to the tribe’s 100-year fight for their right to clean water.

Further, Peyron praised the Senators for genuinely listening to the tribe’s concerns and taking the proper actions to fix them. 

“The bill captures decades of hard work on a real solution in our drought-stricken homelands and is also beneficial to our neighbors,” Peyron said in a statement. 

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