Village News - Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

LAFCO detaches 338 acres of Pala tribe land from SLRMWD


Last updated 6/6/2019 at 12:12pm

San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission detached 338 acres of land now owned by the Pala Band of Mission Indians from the San Luis Rey Municipal Water District.

The LAFCO board voted 7-0, May 6, with no city of San Diego representative present, to approve the detachment along with a sphere of influence amendment.

“We’re just excited about it,” Pala legal counsel Ed Roybal said. “I just want to thank them for approving the request.”

LAFCO is the agency responsible for jurisdictional boundary changes including annexations, detachments, consolidations and dissolutions. The San Luis Rey Municipal Water District was formed in 1958. All of the landowners operate private wells, so the district does not have infrastructure and its primary function is to provide coordination and cooperation between landowners on water rights, groundwater use management and interaction between landowners and government agencies on legal, engineering and planning problems.

Indian reservations are not part of water districts, but the Pala tribe has acquired 13 parcels outside the reservation which total 338 acres. The parcels, all of which are currently vacant and uninhabited, are in two non-contiguous areas. The “Gateway” land just east of Interstate 15 and straddling state Route 76 consists of four parcels the tribe acquired in February 2007. The nine “Hanson/Gregory Canyon” parcels are contiguous; the tribe acquired the Hanson property in December 2005 and the site planned for the Gregory Canyon Landfill in November 2016. The San Luis Rey Municipal Water District has a parcel assessment, and the tribe currently pays $6,820 annually for the 13 parcels.

In 2014, the state of California adopted the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The intent of the law is to strengthen local groundwater. The state Department of Water Resources designated basins throughout California as high, medium, low or very low priority. The SGMA required local agencies to form a groundwater sustainability agency for high-priority and medium-priority basins by July 2017 and also has a January 2022 deadline to develop plans to achieve long-term groundwater sustainability. The state’s 127 basins which require a GSA include the San Luis Rey Valley Groundwater Basin, which is designated as a medium-priority basin.

DWR defines the San Luis Rey Valley Groundwater Basin as beginning at the confluence of the San Luis River and Paradise Creek and ending at the Pacific Ocean within the Oceanside city limits. The basin includes the Pauma, Pala, Bonsall and Mission sub basins. Subterranean streams are exempt from SGMA requirements although the plan must cover the entire basin. DWR has determined that the Pala, Bonsall and Mission sub basins are subterranean streams, so originally only the Pauma sub basin was subject to SGMA requirements.

In August 2016, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution for the county to become a Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the San Luis Rey, San Pasqual Valley and San Diego River Valley basins. A county can form a GSA either within its entire jurisdiction including incorporated cities and water districts or only over the portions of the county which are not within the jurisdiction of another agency. The supervisors’ 2016 action established GSAs covering the entire county jurisdiction. A local agency does not have regulatory authority to implement SGMA actions on tribal or Federal land so the Indian reservations along the San Luis Rey River basin are not included although the tribes will be involved in the work with stakeholders. In June 2017, the board of supervisors approved a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a sustainability plan for the San Luis Rey Valley Groundwater Basin. The MOU included the Yuima Municipal Water District, the Pauma Valley Community Services District and the Upper San Luis Rey Resource Conservation District as well as the county.

The SGMA language requires a GSA to work with stakeholders on the process of developing groundwater regulations. The stakeholders include well owners and other holders of groundwater rights, municipal well operators, public water systems, local land planning agencies, environmental users of groundwater, surface water users if a hydrologic connection between surface and groundwater bodies exists, the federal government including the military and managers of federal lands and Indian tribes. A working group was established and included Indian tribes and local public agencies, and the tasks included determining a governance structure for the development of the plan. In addition to the four MOU partners the working group included the San Luis Rey, Mootamai, Pauma and Rainbow municipal water districts, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, DWR, the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority and the Pala, Pauma, La Jolla, Rincon and San Pasqual tribes.

A water rights settlement which allows San Luis Rey Watershed supply to be diverted from Indian reservations for the benefit of local entities was finalized in May 2017, and legislation was introduced to ensure that the settlement would be considered during the GSA development. In September 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1944 which divided the basin into the Upper San Luis Rey Groundwater Sub basin which includes the Pala and Pauma sub basins and the Lower San Luis Rey Valley Groundwater Sub basin which includes the Bonsall and Mission sub basins. AB 1944 specified that the entire upper sub basin would be subject to SGMA groundwater management while the lower sub basin would not, and AB 1944 also provides for sustainable groundwater management of all lands surrounding tribal land within the upper sub basin while ensuring that the San Luis Rey Valley tribes participate in the SGMA. The dividing line between the upper and lower sub basins is Monserate Narrows, which is approximately a mile and a half east of Interstate 15.

“They will be taking over groundwater management responsibilities,” LAFCO chief policy analyst Robert Barry said.

Pala thus no longer requires the San Luis Rey district to provide groundwater management services for the off-reservation land.

“The district's primary responsibility has been superseded with the state legislation,” Barry said.

A municipal service review evaluates services and anticipated needs. A sphere of influence study determines the boundaries best served by a particular agency. Municipal service review and sphere of influence updates are prerequisites to a jurisdictional change other than annexation of land within the sphere of influence, and LAFCO also periodically conducts sphere of influence updates for all cities and special districts.

In 2014, LAFCO detached the Meadowood area from the San Luis Rey Municipal Water District. The action included a sphere of influence update for the area, and the Gateway area was transferred from the SLRMWD sphere to the Rainbow Municipal Water District sphere.

The Hanson/Gregory Canyon land had not previously been removed from the SLRMWD sphere of influence, so those 244.89 acres were detached from the water district’s sphere.

“The detachment is appropriate,” Barry said.

In June 2018, LAFCO approved a five-year schedule for updated sphere of influence studies for each of the county’s cities and special districts. The San Luis Rey Municipal Water District update is scheduled for 2019-2020 and LAFCO will determine whether the GSA warrants any further changes to the SLRMWD sphere.


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