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Heinrich, Leger Fernández Lead Bicameral Bills To Approve Water Rights Settlements For Four Pueblos

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) introduced two bills to approve the water rights claims of the Pueblos of Acoma, Jemez, Laguna, and Zia, as well as participating non-Tribal parties.

Both pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate and House would implement two fund-based water settlements: one between the Pueblos of Jemez and Zia, the United States, the State of New Mexico, and non-Tribal parties; and another between the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna, the United States, the State of New Mexico, and non-Tribal parties. The settlements are strongly supported by all parties involved.

“The U.S. government has a responsibility to make good on these legal commitments, and I’m proud to introduce legislation to do just that. These bills will finally unlock critical water infrastructure funding from these settlements and ensure these Pueblos have the autonomy to ensure their communities can access the water they need. The timing is especially important as water—our most precious resource in New Mexico—continues to be threatened due to the climate crisis,” said Heinrich.

“The Pueblos have revered water since time immemorial. Leading by example, they have conserved and treasured this precious resource for generations. We must honor our trust responsibilities and fulfill the agreements made to them to access and protect our waters for the future,” said Leger Fernández. “Today’s legislation is a product of years of negotiations and collaboration between tribal and non-tribal water users, local, state, and federal government, and many more. These bills move us toward greater equity and water security for tribes, acequias, local communities, and all New Mexicans - I’m proud to introduce and advance them in Congress.”

The Pueblos of Jemez and Zia Water Rights Settlement Act would approve the water rights claims of these respective Pueblos and other parties in a fund-based settlement for the Jemez River Stream.

The Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna Water Rights Settlement Act would approve the settlement of water rights claims of these respective Pueblos in the Rio San José Stream System in the State of New Mexico, and for other purposes.

Both bills are cosponsored by U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) and have received strong support from the Pueblos, non-Tribal organizations, and state and local entities.

“Introduction of this water settlement legislation is not only of great importance to the Pueblo of Acoma, it also benefits the other water users in our basin. Resolving these outstanding water claims facilitates management of the State’s water resources in a way that assures water security for decades to come. This legislation also rights some historical wrongs that we have experienced with the illegal appropriation of our water by upstream users. I am deeply appreciative of the efforts of the New Mexico delegation, and thankful for Senator Heinrich’s and Rep. Leger Fernandez’s lead sponsorship, along with the strong support of Rep. Stansbury, in moving this bill forward. This legislation is a great example of how the Pueblos, the State, the Federal government and local communities can work together to lay the foundation for the future well-being of all New Mexico citizens,” said Pueblo of Acoma Governor Randall Vicente.

“This is a long awaited settlement the Pueblo has worked very hard over many years of negotiations. It resolves 39 years of litigation while providing the Pueblo and its members sufficient water and water rights now and for the future. The settlement will provide a reliable supply of water to maintain its agricultural practices while maintaining relations with the water users in the basin,” said Pueblo of Jemez Raymond Loretto.

“This historic legislation will resolve water supply problems more than a century in the making. It will support efforts to retain traditional agriculture, which the Pueblo of Laguna relied upon since time immemorial. It will provide resources for more water, and protect the sacred resource, to ensure the health safety, and economic future for the people of Laguna, and provide water security to surrounding communities for decades to come. This settlement agreement, and the historic legislation that implements it, would not have been possible without the hard work and compromise of major stakeholders in the Rio San José basin. We thank Senator Heinrich and Congresswomen Leger Fernandez and Stansbury for their advocacy and leadership on this vitally important New Mexico issue,” said Pueblo of Laguna Governor Martin Kowemy, Jr.

“The Pueblo of Zia is extremely pleased that legislation was introduced today by Senator Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández and Stansbury. If passed by Congress, the legislation will ratify a comprehensive agreement settling our water rights in the Jemez River basin. The settlement agreement is the product of years of negotiations and resolves a host of water-related issues that continued litigation of our water claims would not resolve. We thank the representatives from the state, the non-Indian parties who live in the Jemez River basin, the federal government, and Jemez Pueblo for their hard work and collaborative efforts in getting us to this point, and we hope that Congress will promptly consider and pass the settlement legislation,” said Pueblo of Zia Governor Gabriel Galvan.

“These agreements settle long-standing water disputes before the courts and provide certainty for the four Pueblos and surrounding communities regarding their water future to better cope with persistent drought and the effects of the changing climate," said New Mexico State Engineer Mike Hamman. “I commend all the parties for their commitment to collaboration and mutual benefit.”

Support for the Pueblos of Jemez and Zia Water Rights Settlement Act:

“This settlement will end decades of litigation in the Jemez Valley and provide much needed water supply for the Pueblos, Acequias and other water users,” said Juanita Revak, president of the association of Jemez acequias that signed the settlement agreement. “We are grateful to Senator Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández and Stansbury for supporting this critical settlement.”

“I am so pleased this finally happened in my lifetime,” said Gilbert Sandoval, Revak’s father and former acequia association president. Sandoval worked to resolve the case for forty years. He turned 87 this year.

Support for the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna Water Rights Settlement Act:

“The City of Grants has participated in negotiations with the Pueblos, the State, the United States and other stakeholders for many years, and we are pleased that the parties have been able to craft a settlement that benefits everyone and protects the water rights of Grants now and in the future,” said City of Grants Mayor Erik Garcia. “We hope that the funding provided to the Pueblos will enable them to spur economic growth for the entire region. The state funding component will directly benefit Grants by upgrading its infrastructure.”

“The Village of Milan appreciates Senator Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández and Stansbury’s support for the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna Water Rights Settlement Act. Passage of the Act is a necessary step for completion of the Rio San Jose Stream System Settlement which would protect the Village’s water rights from Pueblo priority calls and the impacts of new Pueblo water uses. The Settlement also provides for State funding of necessary repairs and improvements to the Village’s water and wastewater infrastructure,” said Village of Milan Mayor Felix Gonzales.

“The nine Cibola County Acequias of the Rio San José, along with their umbrella Association, each voted to approve the Local Settlement Agreement and support the Bill because of the substantial protections and benefits provided to their irrigation rights. The Settlement protects the water rights of the Acequias from possible Pueblo priority calls and adverse impacts from any new Pueblo water projects, while also providing for improvements to these Acequias’ water supplies through $12 Million in State funding for Acequia infrastructure and conservation projects,” said the Association of Community Ditches.