The Tule River Tribe Chairman presented his case in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, continuing the decades long effort to enact federal legislation to provide water rights for the Tule River Reservation that would address a dire need.
Tule River Tribe Chairman Neil Peyron testified in front of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs concerning the proposed Tule River Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022.
On September 15, California's two Democratic U.S. Senators, Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein introduced the Tule River Tribe Reserved Rights Settlement Act. The legislation is a product of an effort that has lasted more than 50 years made by the Tule River Tribe to obtain recognition of their federal reserved Indian water rights. The settlement would ratify an agreement with downstrean state-based water users and fund infrastructure to store and deliver water for the Tribe without impacting downstream uses.
The legislation would call for th federal government to provide more water for the reservation from the South Fork of the Tule River that runs through tribal land.
Peyron thanked Padilla, Feinstein and Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy for their effort in trying to secure water rights for the tribe.
The Tribe wants to extend a huge thank you to Senators Padilla and Feinstein for their support in the current Congress. Leader McCarthy's office also has worked with the Tule River Tribe for years now in search of a durable solution.
Although this is a problem that the Tribe has faced for decades, the water crisis has gotten significantly worse in recent years with the effects of the drought and climate change forcing the river to run dry and putting our homes and people at extreme risk. We hope that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will make this bill a priority.
Water is the life of the reservation. We simply cannot survive without receiving some help.”
The Reservation goes dry annually and has to deliver water to its residents. This past summer, a Reservation well went dry and the Tribe received bottled water for drinking and cooking, but no water for sanitation and bathing, forcing Tribal members to shower from trucks. And the bottled water was obtained at great expense.
Tribal officials say what East Porterville went through during the extreme drought of 2015 that made national news, the Tule River Reservation experiences every year. Tribal officials say the reservation has gone dry for several months each year.
The legislation proposed by Padilla and Feinstien would secure water to be stored on the reservation so a much-needed year-round water source would be provided.
The Tribe continues to address its water concerns at the state and federal level. It's been working with the state to address immediate needs and to update an antiquated water system that's operated irrigation pipes from the 1960s.
This past summer the Tribe asked for $6.6 million from the state to upgrade its existing reservoir and water treatment facility in response to the well going dry.
At Wednesday's hearing, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the chair of the committee, asked Peyron the conditions that are caused on the reservation that results from having to depend so heavily on bottled water. Peyron talked about the conditions that prevent children from attending school and parents from going to work.
Children can't go to school at all,” Peyron said. “They can't have clean clothes.” Peyron added Tribal children who do go to school are made fun of because they haven't bathed and wear dirty clothes.
He added the lack of water forced the reservation's health clinic to close about a month ago, forcing reservation residents to make a 40-mile round trip to Porterville to meet their life-sustaining needs.
He talked about the 1960s irrigation system that was originally designed to support 60 homes but now has to support 362 home and 14 commercial buildings. He did say the state has provided $2 million to address the issue.
The legislation proposed by Padilla and Feinstein would provide $568 million to address the Tribe's water issues. He told the committee he would like to see the legislation passed by the end of this Congress.
Peyron said the Tribe has generally dealt with a water shortage from May to September every year but that timeframe has been expanded this year to from April to when the first major rainfall came earlier this month.
Unfortunately my people have acclimated to this,” Peyron said. “So if you call and you ask they'll say everything is fine because that's what we do.
We adapt and we continue to persevere regardless of the situation. That's what we do. We take care of ourselves.”

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