Congress enacted the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indian Water Rights Settlement Act in late 2016 as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (S.612). The Act, in part, culminates years of settlement negotiations between the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Best Best & Krieger LLP client Rancho California Water District regarding unquantified water rights in the Santa Margarita River Watershed. The settlement arose out of the pending federal case, United States v. Fallbrook Public Utility District, which was filed in 1951 by the United States over water rights in the Santa Margarita Watershed. The Fallbrook litigation eventually expanded to include all water users within the Santa Margarita Watershed, including three Indian Tribes (the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Cahuilla Band of Indians).
The settlement quantifies Pechanga’s tribal water right in the Fallbrook litigation and allocates rights to local groundwater in the Wolf Valley Groundwater Basin between Pechanga and RCWD. The settlement also includes terms for Pechanga and RCWD to jointly manage the safe yield of the Basin. Under the settlement, RCWD received rights to recycled water from Eastern Municipal Water District and more than $20 million in federal funding for infrastructure needed to store the recycled water and deliver imported water from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to Pechanga.
The settlement, which received local and bipartisan congressional support, is a product of nearly a decade of complex negotiations between Pechanga, RCWD, the U.S. (acting by and through its Secretary of the Interior), MWD of Southern California and EMWD. It avoids lengthy and costly litigation, provides for greater certainty regarding available water supplies, improves water quality in the Basin, and promotes continued coordinated management of water resources by the parties. BB&K attorneys Arthur Littleworth, Michael Cowett (deceased), James Gilpin and Lindsay Puckett represented RCWD in the years of settlement negotiation.