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Indian Affairs Panel Advances Domenici-Bingaman Northern N.M. Indian Water Rights Bill

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Location: Washington, DC


Indian Affairs Panel Advances Domenici-Bingaman Northern N.M. Indian Water Rights Bill

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today approved legislation needed to finally settle outstanding Indian water rights claims in northern New Mexico, clearing the measure—sponsored by U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman—for consideration by the full Senate.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today approved the Aamodt and Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 2008 (S.3381) on a voice vote. The committee action follows a Sept. 11 hearing at which Domenici and Bingaman pressed the panel to approve the bill despite opposition from the Bush administration.

S.3381 would resolve Indian water rights claims associated with the Rio Pojoaque Basin (Aamodt case) and the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement (Abeyta case). The legislation still requires full Senate approval, as well as a positive vote in the House of Representatives before it can be sent to the White House.

"The committee is sending a clear signal that this is good and worthwhile legislation, and it should be enacted. We face an uphill climb to get it through Congress and to the White House, but we will continue to push for its enactment," Domenici said. "So much work has gone into these settlements and, after decades of wrangling, our bill represents good legislation for all parties."

"The Indian Affairs Committee's strong support of this bill will help us get it through the Senate," Bingaman said. "Though we're nearing the end of the session, Senator Domenici and I are working very hard to get this bill to the president's desk this year."

S.3381—as well as a companion House bill (HR.6768) introduced by Congressman Tom Udall—is based on years of extensive negotiations between many parties, including Indian, local, state and federal parties. It would also resolve litigation that has been pending in the federal courts since the 1960s.

The bill will assure water resources for the pueblos while providing for the current and future water needs of non-Indian interests in north-central New Mexico. It would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Commissioner of Reclamation, to develop water infrastructure in the Rio Grande Basin, and to approve the settlement of the water rights claims of the Nambé, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Tesuque and Taos pueblos.

The two settlements include an agreement by the state and local parties to contribute 33 percent of the implementation costs—a substantially higher percentage than other enacted settlements.

The Aamodt settlement includes the construction of a regional water system in and around Santa Fe County that will benefit the pueblos and their non-pueblo neighbors. Project construction plus other benefits to the pueblos are expected to cost the Federal government approximately $160 million within the next decade. The state of New Mexico and Santa Fe County are expected to contribute approximately $117 million towards the cost of the project.

Implementing the Taos Settlement requires funding a number of small projects to help improve water use efficiency; groundwater management; and improve water quality in the Taos Valley. The pueblo will also receive direct funding to manage its water resources. In total, the Taos settlement is expected to cost the Federal government approximately $114 million. The state of New Mexico is expected to contribute another $20 million to the effort.

The Aamodt-Abeyta settlement legislation represents two of the three Indian water settlements pending in New Mexico. In April, the lawmakers introduced legislation to authorize the settlement reached on the Navajo Nation's water rights claims in the San Juan River Basin.


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