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Heinrich, Leger Fernández Lead Bill 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 legislation to approve the water rights settlements of the Pueblos of Acoma, Jemez, Laguna, and Zia, as well as participating non-Tribal parties. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) are original cosponsors.
The Rio San José and Rio Jemez Water Settlements Act, 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 honor its legal commitments. I’m proud to introduce legislation to finally unlock critical water infrastructure funding from these settlements and ensure these Pueblos have the autonomy and the resources to use the water they own. 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 used, conserved and protected water since time immemorial,” said Leger Fernández. “The bills I’ve introduced honor our commitments to the Pueblos and Tribes to access and protect life-giving waters while working in partnership with acequias and local communities who also rely on this precious resource. Let’s keep moving away from water disputes, towards water settlements, towards greater water equity and security.”
"As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I am glad to join my New Mexico colleagues in introducing the Rio San José and Rio Jemez Water Settlements Act. This legislation is widely supported by stakeholders in New Mexico, including acequias, municipal, state, federal, and Tribal parties," said Luján. "I look forward to working with my colleagues, and all settlement parties, including the Pueblos of Jemez, Zia, Acoma, and Laguna to pass and implement these water settlements."
“Water is life, and for the Pueblos and Tribes of New Mexico, it is sacred,” said Stansbury, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “The water rights settlements we introduced in Congress are decades in the making and will provide a framework and the resources to protect Pueblo water rights and meet community water needs. I am humbled to carry this process forward with Senator Heinrich, Ranking Member Leger Fernández, and the New Mexico delegation. I will continue to work in partnership with Pueblo and Tribal leaders and our acequias, land grants, and state, local, and federal stakeholders to get these crucial bills to the President’s desk.”
“Unlocking critical water infrastructure funding from these settlements and ensuring the Pueblos in New Mexico have autonomy over the resources their communities need is a priority,” said Vasquez. “This legislation fulfills our trust responsibility and promotes equity and water security in these communities. I am proud to stand by our Tribal communities to ensure their agreements are completed and funded.”
The Rio San José and Rio Jemez Water Settlements Act would approve the water rights claims of these respective Pueblos and other parties in fund-based settlements for the Rio Jemez and Rio San José basins.
The legislation has 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 Senator Luján, Rep. Stansbury, and Rep. Vasquez, 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 settlement represents many, many years of hard work by a long line of the Pueblo’s Governors and tribal representatives. We are grateful to all of the Abousleman parties who have participated and worked equally hard to make this settlement a reality. It resolves many years of litigation but more importantly it will help to provide a reliable supply of water to the Pueblos and the needed infrastructure to develop clean drinking water supply systems and improved wastewater treatment as well as maintain agricultural practices for all farmers in the Jemez River Basin. We want to thank our entire New Mexico congressional delegation, and in particular Senators Heinrich and Lujan, and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernandez, Melanie Stansbury, Gabe Vasquez for reintroducing our legislation in the 118th Congress,” said Pueblo of Jemez Governor Dominic Gachupin.
“This settlement agreement and the introduction of this historic legislation to implement it would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, commitment and compromise of major stakeholders in the Rio San Jose Basin and our partnership with our federal trustee and the sovereign State of New Mexico. As I reflect on the efforts undertaken over the past four decades in this water rights adjudication, I see the vast amount of time, resources and major financial expense and investment in first the litigation and now the water rights settlement process by all parties. Now we are on the path with this settlement agreement to cross the finish line, enabling and empowering us now and for future generations, to provide for native and non-native stakeholders to be the beneficiaries of a good quantity and quality of water resources. Investing now for the future is our duty and legacy so that we do not leave the work to resolve, address and provide solutions to future generations who are dependent on our actions or inactions now. Overall I believe that our collective efforts will result in helping to provide a bright future and opportunities for our future generations,” said Pueblo of Laguna Governor Will Herrera.
“The Pueblo of Zia welcomes the announcement by Senators Heinrich and Lujan and Representatives Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez that legislation was reintroduced today which will settle the water rights claims of Zia and Jemez Pueblos in the Jemez River basin. The settlement, once approved by Congress, will resolve litigation that has been pending for 40 years, and will do so in a manner that addresses the future water needs of all basin residents. Zia looks forward to working with members of Congress to secure the passage of this important legislation. We thank Governor Lujan Grisham, the State Engineer’s Office, the City of Rio Rancho, the various upstream Jemez Valley communities, and Jemez Pueblo for their efforts and cooperation in reaching a comprehensive settlement agreement,” said Pueblo of Zia Governor Valentino Pino.
“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.”
“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 Senators Heinrich and Luján and Representatives Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez 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.
“The Village of Milan appreciates Senators Heinrich and Luján and Representatives Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez’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.