@DOINews: Secretary Jewell, Tribal Leaders Mark Enactment of Four Additional Water Rights Settlements for Indian Country

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from Secretary Jewell’s office:

As part of President Obama’s historic commitment to empowering tribal nations, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor today joined tribal leaders to celebrate four landmark water rights settlements that will resolve contention among tribes and neighboring communities over water rights and improve the quality of life for tribal communities and their non-Indian neighbors.

The settlements, negotiated during the past eight years, were ratified and approved in December 2016 under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The legislation authorized $422 million in funding to the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana to provide clean drinking water and other water-related infrastructure projects that will improve the health, safety and welfare of the Tribe. More than $28 million was authorized for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, located in southern California, enabling them to gain secure water supplies. The legislation secured for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations of Oklahoma the right to use and benefit from water resources within their historic treaty territories without any federal funding. Finally, the five San Luis Rey Bands of southern California settlement legislation finalized and effectuated a settlement originally enacted in 1988 and did not require additional funding.

“With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.”

The total $3 billion in funding authorized for Indian water rights settlements during the current Administration represents a major commitment to help provide safe drinking water and support economic development activities, including hydroelectric power, agriculture improvement and water marketing.

“The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”

The Blackfeet settlement reflects decades of struggle and commitment by the Tribe – and negotiations with the State of Montana – to quantify and secure a tribal water right of more than 800,000 acre-feet while protecting the rights of existing water users. The settlement includes funding for the Tribe to develop and manage its water resources.

The Pechanga settlement, which will partially settle litigation filed by the United States in 1951, was achieved only after a long and arduous struggle. The Pechanga Band negotiated the settlement with its neighbors, the Rancho California Water District, Eastern Municipal Water District and the Metropolitan Water District. The Band has tirelessly pursued the quantification of its water rights and engaged its neighbors in a multi-year process of building mutual trust and understanding. The resulting settlement benefits all of the parties, securing adequate water supplies for tribal members and encouraging cooperative water resources management among all parties.

The Choctaw and Chickasaw settlement in Oklahoma – the first Indian water settlement to be finalized in that state – reflects a unique and collaborative approach to water management in the Nations’ historic treaty territories. It will advance a collaborative approach to water management and help achieve water security for the State of Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The settlement includes important protections for the Nations’ future and existing water rights, conserves water resources and provides for cooperation in the regulation of water use.

The San Luis Rey settlement allows full implementation of amendments to the 1988 San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act that benefits the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians in southern California. The agreement allows the five Bands and the local parties to realize the full benefits of the 1988 Act, including: expressly recognizing the continuing federal reserved water rights of the Bands; addressing the fair allocation of water among the Bands; protecting the water rights of allottees; waiving all past claims the Bands may have against the U.S. regarding water rights and breach of trust relating to water rights; and allowing the Bands to access a trust fund established in 1988 that has now grown to approximately $60 million.

“These settlements recognize tribal stakeholders’ reserved rights to one of their most precious assets and offer the most efficient way of providing vital water supplies to both tribal and non-Indian communities,” said Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts. “Under the Obama Administration, Indian water rights settlements are a visible example of the Federal trust responsibility to federally recognized tribes and of Federal policies that promote tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. I congratulate all of the parties to these settlements for their leadership in achieving these settlements.”

The eight other settlements enacted during the Obama Administration were:

  • Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement
  • Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Water Rights Settlement
  • Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement
  • White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement
  • Aamodt Litigation Settlement
  • Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement
  • Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement (Hualapai Tribe)
  • Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe – Fish Springs Ranch Settlement
  • Thoughtful Indian water rights settlements benefit taxpayers when balanced against the potential consequences and costs of continued litigation over Indian water rights claims. Settlements also offer the most efficient way to provide much-needed water supplies to tribal communities in fulfillment of basic Federal trust responsibility to American Indians and Federal policy promoting tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self- sufficiency.

    Settlements are especially important given the need for water on many Indian reservations and throughout the West and the uncertainty regarding its availability due to drought, climate change and increasing demands for this scarce resource. Settlements resolve long-standing claims to water; provide reliability with respect to supplies; facilitate the development of much-needed infrastructure; improve environmental and health conditions on reservations; and promote collaboration between Tribes, states and local communities.

    From the Indian Country Media Network (Vincent Schilling):

    On Friday, January 13, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor joined with tribes and members of Congress to celebrate the enactment of four historic Indian water rights settlements that will benefit nine tribes.

    The celebration included leaders from the Blackfeet Tribe, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.

    U.S. Congressman Tom Cole was also in attendance, along with a number of tribal leaders.

    During the announcement and celebration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thanked the leaders of the tribes in attendance and informed the attendees that the Obama Administration has reached more water settlements than any administration in history.

    “With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.

    “The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor.

    “Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”

    #Snowpack news: Monster snowfall is beating back the #drought W. and in the mountains

    Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

    From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

    The U.S. Drought Monitor, in a report Thursday, showed the level of abnormal dryness and moderate drought decreasing in an area that spans the Front Range to the Kansas border. Still, more than half of Colorado remains classified as unusually dry, some 35 percent in moderate drought and about 2 percent — in Larimer County and the Eastern Plains — in severe drought.

    The monitor’s report, however, only takes into account data through Wednesday, leaving the growing amount of high country precipitation since then out of the mix.

    “Major drought improvements were made not only to California but at many areas of the West, including parts of Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado,” the report said. “The decent snowpack should greatly contribute to a good spring snow melt runoff and recharge if conditions are maintained.”

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports as of Wednesday that Colorado’s statewide snowpack level is 157 percent of the normal and at 148 percent as compared to last year. The snowpack so far this year is far above what it has been measured at on the same date dating back to 2014.

    Officials say the snow that has hit Colorado this week stems from the Atmospheric River — also known as the Pineapple Express — which carries moisture across the West from the Pacific Ocean.

    “This is a really unusual event,” Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said earlier this week. “It has to do with the amount of snow and the water content of that snow and how it’s come in. We’re seeing areas like Wolf Creek Pass and Vail Pass that are getting 5 inches or 8 inches of water. That’s just a huge amount of weight that’s going onto our snowpack.”

    Colorado Drought Monitor January 10, 2017.
    Colorado Drought Monitor January 10, 2017.

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

    Just as hope waned, the high-pressure ridge began to break down, allowing the jet stream to meander into Colorado’s mountains and fill them to and in some place over the brim with snow. Several snowstorms have dropped 5 to 8 feet of snow since mid-November. And it’s been good, wet snow, too, which is even better for spring runoff.

    South Platte Basin snowpack sat at 158 percent of normal Thursday morning. Statewide, we’re at 155 percent. The statewide rate of snowpack accumulation between Nov. 17 to Jan. 1 was the fastest Colorado has seen in 32 years, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 16, 2017 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 16, 2017 via the NRCS.

    Inside the Stagecoach Dam: Harnessing the Power — Steamboat Today

    Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.
    Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

    Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:

    It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.

    Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.

    These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.

    Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.

    “All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…

    “It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.

    Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

    In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.

    “I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.

    Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.

    On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.

    “The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”

    The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.

    Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…

    A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.

    From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.

    The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.

    “It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.

    With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.

    “The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.

    In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.

    Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.

    “It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.

    Water in the 21st Century is the theme of Denver’s first live VR art show — Feb. 6, 2017

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    Say hello to WildWorldCreative.com. They’re VR art show is Thursday, February 6, 2017, Syntax Psychic Opera – 554 South Broadway – Denver CO. Click on the link to register and to view the multi-media. Here’s an excerpt:

    Robert F Kennedy, Jr. calls our access to water “the biggest environmental and political challenge of our time.” Four hundred million people depend on it, yet there’s little conversation happening about it. The artists will be painting in VR to demonstrate how water will be one of the forces that will drive much of 21st century history.

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    CDPHE and @EPA hope the Lower Ark is allowed to join their lawsuit

    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013
    Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Voczkiewicz):

    The state and federal agencies told a judge Thursday that they support the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s request to have a courtroom voice in a clean-water lawsuit against Colorado Springs.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are suing the city, which discharges pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries.

    The Lower Ark district wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…

    Senior Judge Richard Matsch is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in Denver and will decide whether to grant Lower Ark’s request.

    The EPA and the state health-environment department filed the lawsuit Nov. 9. It alleges that Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system is violating federal and state clean water laws.

    The city denies it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers recently pointed to additional expenditures the city is making as an example of its commitment to correct storm water problems.

    The storm water contains pollutants, including E. coli, that flow into the river from creek tributaries.

    The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

    In Thursday’s court filing reviewed by The Pueblo Chieftain, the EPA and the department told Matsch they agree with Lower Ark that it should have a voice in court because the district wants the river water to have adequate quality.

    To achieve that, the agencies and the district want Colorado Springs to reduce the amount of polluted discharges.

    The environmental agencies contend Colorado Springs mischaracterizes the lawsuit as being focused on past issues, but it in fact “seeks to remedy current and ongoing violations.”

    The environmental agencies disagree with Colorado Springs’ arguments that the district has no legal right to become an intervenor and that intervention will unduly complicate the litigation.

    The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.