Monday, May 2, 2016

Indian water rights

Continuing coverage of the special issue of Western Legal History on Southern California water: Tanis Thorne's contribution is "Indian Water Rights in Southern California in the Progressive Era: A Case Study." Thorne writes:
The consensual opinion of water rights historians is that piecemeal legal transfer of Indian water rights to the non-Indian majority progressed unabated, decade after decade, throughout the arid American West. The water rights of Southern California Native people remained ill defined well into the twentieth century....
This study departs from the consensus position, which has argued that Indian water rights were ignored until the 1960s. In the case of the Capitan Grande Indian people of San Diego County in the early twentieth century, Indian rights were hardly ignored; they were, in fact, a subject of considerable importance to the federal government. In 1919, the El Capitan Act gave the city of San Diego the right to build the El Capitan Dam and create the El Capitan Reservoir as a city storage site. The transfer of Indian land, held under federal trust, required complicated local, state, and federal negotiations both in the 1910s and in 1932, when the El Capitan Act was amended. The Department of the Interior made a concerted effort to define and protect the Capitan Grande people's riparian rights using the state prior appropriation doctrine. The terms of transfer negotiated in 1919 anticipated  the quantification measures based on "practicably irrigable" acreage set in Arizona v. California.

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