dry river bed; Photo courtesy of the Tule River Tribe
Dry river bed. Photo courtesy of Tule River Indian Tribe.

On Wednesday, November 16, 2022, Tule River Tribe Chairman Neil Peyron is giving testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on S. 4870, Tule River Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022. In recent years, the Tribe’s reservation has gone dry for several months each year, forcing members to shower from trucks and obtain bottled water at great expense. The settlement will secure water to be stored on the reservation as a much-needed year-round water source. Although chronic issues with water access have plagued the Tribe since it was forcibly moved to its current reservation in the 1870s, access to water is increasingly difficult and expensive due to the compounding drought conditions of the Central Valley.

On September 15, 2022, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to formally recognize the Tule River Indian Tribe’s reserved water rights. The Tule River Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act of 2022 is the product of over fifty years of concerted effort by the Tule River Tribe to obtain recognition of their federal reserved Indian water rights. The settlement will ratify an agreement with downstream state-based water users and fund infrastructure to store and deliver the Tribe’s water rights without impacting downstream uses.

Tule River Chair Neil Peyron responded to the legislation, “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 drought and climate change forcing the river to run dry and putting our homes and people at extreme risk. We are pleased that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs made it a priority to set a hearing for this bill.”

The lengthy legislative effort required to meet Tule River’s basic human need for water highlights the herculean effort often involved to obtain just solutions in Indian Country.

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