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Indian Water Rights Bill OKd by U.S. Senate

Times Staff Writer

The U. S. Senate on Wednesday, by unanimous voice vote, approved legislation necessary to resolve a 19-year-old lawsuit involving the water rights of five North County Indian bands. The bill is expected to return to the House today for final concurrence before being forwarded to President Reagan for his signature.

Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), who initiated the legislation in 1985, said he expects no House objections to several technical Senate amendments to the House version of the bill, which was adopted two weeks ago.

Both of California’s senators, Republican Pete Wilson and Democrat Alan Cranston, sponsored the Senate version of Packard’s bill.

Settlement to Lawsuit

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The legislation is integral in settling a 1969 lawsuit filed on behalf of the La Jolla, San Pasqual, Rincon, Pala and Pauma bands of the Mission Indians, who claimed that Vista and Escondido officials at the turn of the century illegally diverted water from the San Luis Rey River to their communities, depriving the Indians of use of river water that otherwise would have flowed through their reservations.

The water diversion more than 80 years ago was approved at the time by the federal government, and its concurrence to a settlement is required before the issue can be returned to federal court for resolution.

Robert Pelcyger, the attorney representing the five Indian bands, characterized the congressional approval as “a long time coming” but cautioned that, although the federal government has authorized its settlement terms, other issues still must be resolved by several local governments.

‘Obstacle Is Overcome’

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The city of Escondido and the Vista Irrigation District, for instance, must still negotiate how much water the two agencies can continue to take out of the river, Pelcyger said. “But we’re confident the major obstacle is overcome and I don’t anticipate the final steps towards settlement to be a problem,” he said.

The convoluted settlement calls for the Metropolitan Water District to line the All-American Canal in Imperial County--action that is expected to save the Imperial Irrigation District 100,000 acre-feet a year in water seepage. The MWD will, in turn, be allowed to take that much more water for its own use out of the Colorado River--and from that, 16,000 acre-feet will be earmarked for use by the five Indian bands.

Furthermore, the Department of Interior will establish a $30-million trust fund to generate economic development on the five North County reservations. That money will be managed by the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority.


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