House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife: Legislative Hearing – June 29, 2021
House subcommittee hears from Shoshone-Paiute Tribes on water rights settlement
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Indianz.Com

The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation are asking Congress to make some technical changes to their water rights settlement.

In 2009, Congress ratified the settlement, which included a $60 million trust fund for water development and maintenance projects on the reservation. But Chairman Brian Thomas said passage of H.R.1869 will help the tribes recoup interest that was lost through actions at the Department of the Interior.

“The actual interest earned on the tribes’ trust funds during this period was returned to Treasury and removed from the tribes’ accounts because of the Department of the Interior’s interpretation of Settlement Act,” Thomas states in written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.

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According to correspondence attached to the testimony, the actions at issue occurred during the final year of the Barack Obama administration. The tribes in February 2016 asked Larry Roberts, who was serving as the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the time, to ensure that the $5 million in interest in the tribal trust account wasn’t returned to the Department of the Treasury.

More than seven months later, in September 2016, another official at Interior responded. The tribes were told that the interest had to be returned to Treasury.

Roberts, a citizen of the Oneida Nation from Wisconsin, has since joined the Joe Biden administration. He is serving as chief of staff to Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native person to lead Interior.

No one from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, however, is on the witness list for a hearing on H.R.1869 on Tuesday afternoon. The bill authorizes a $5 million appropriation to replace the interest that was taken from the tribal trust account.

“This will restore the value of the trust funds provided to the tribes to the level intended by Congress and enable the tribes to fulfill the promise of the settlement act: to be able to make use of their water right to fulfill the economic potential of the Duck Valley Reservation,” Chairman Thomas states in his testimony.

The hearing takes place virtually at 1pm Eastern on Tuesday. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nevada), who introduced H.R.1869 on March 12, is scheduled to discuss his measure before the subcommittee.

Duck Valley Reservation
A welcome sign on the Duck Valley Reservation, which straddles the Nevada-Idaho border. Photo Farmartin

Also on the agenda is H.R.1851, the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act. The bill addresses funding for the Milk River Project in Montana, which impacts the Blackfeet Nation, the Fort Belknap Tribes and non-Indian water users.

The Biden administration has sent a representative of the Bureau of Reclamation to testify about H.R.1851 and two other bills on the agenda — H.R.3877, the Salton Sea Projects Improvements Act, and H.R.4099, the Large Scale Water Recycling Project Investment Act.

Witness List
Panel I: Congressional Panel
Rep. Grace Napolitano (H.R. 4099)
California, 32nd Congressional District

Rep. Raul Ruiz (H.R. 3877)
California, 36th Congressional District

Rep. Mark Amodei (H.R. 1869)
Nevada, 2nd Congressional District

Rep. Matthew Rosendale (H.R. 1851)
Montana, At-Large

Panel II: Government Panel
Mr. David Raff (H.R. 1851, H.R. 3877, and H.R. 4099) [PDF: Testimony]
Chief Engineer
Bureau of Reclamation

Chairman Brian Thomas (H.R. 1869) [PDF: Testimony]
Chairman
Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Business Council

Panel III: Expert Witnesses Panel
Mr. Deven Upadhyay (H.R. 4099) [PDF: Testimony]
Assistant General Manager and Chief Operating Officer
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Mr. John Entsminger (H.R. 4099) [PDF: Testimony]
General Manager
Southern Nevada Water Authority

Mr. Frank Ruiz (H.R. 3877 and H.R. 4099) [PDF: Testimony]
Salton Sea Program Director
Audubon California

Ms. Jennifer Patrick (H.R. 1851) [PDF: Testimony]
Project Manager
Milk River Irrigation Project Joint Board of Control

House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Notice
Legislative Hearing (June 29, 2021)