Tule River Tribe prepares for testimony before U.S. Senate
Status: House recently passed water bill.
Officials with the Tule River Indian Tribe are drafting testimony they hope to present to the U.S. Senate next month.
It’s another step in a long effort to get a 5,000-acre-foot-a-year water source to the tribe.
“We are excited,” said Alec Garfield, chairman of the Tule River Water Rights Negotiation Team.
The House on Tuesday approved the Tule River Tribe Water Development Act which gives the OK to begin a $3 million study for a potential Porterville-area reservoir. Now the bill must pass through the Senate.
The study is similar to feasibility studies done for dams that determine, among other criteria, what sites can hold the water’s weight, where endangered species live and how much building the reservoir will cost.
Once, and if, it is constructed, the reservoir would give the 1,500-member tribe a long-term water supply on its 58,000-acre reservation. They currently draw water from wells and from the south fork of the Tule River — where the reservoir could be built.
“People up and down the state have been screaming for water for years,” Garfield said.
Tribes across the western half of the country have been suing for water rights for years, but the Tule River Indian Tribe has taken a different approach, according to Damon Nelson with the Washington office of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
The tribe has spent more than 30 years and $600,000 to get where it is today.
When reservation boundaries were moved to the east in 1873, the tribe lost its access to water. In 1971, the tribe decided it wanted to secure its water rights. Then in 1998, the Bureau of Indian Affairs gave the Tule tribe the money it needed to put together an assessment that would prove its need.
Garfield recalls growing up on the reservation during the 1940s and 1950s when the homes did not have running water.
“People probably wouldn’t stand for that today,” he said.
Nunes wrote the Tule River Tribe Water Development Act, which won approval by voice vote 417-3.
Garfield is confident the Senate will approve and forward the bill on to the president, now that it includes stipulations supported by Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The tribe will not be able to use the water to service Eagle Mountain Casino or any other related gaming expansions or development.
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