SLIWA Litigation

The Dispute

Since before the turn of the 20th Century, the Cities of Escondido and Vista (or their predecessors) have taken an average annual diversion of approximately 16,000 acre-feet of water from the San Luis Rey River, to which the Indian Bands claim senior rights based on the reserved rights or " Winters " doctrine (Winters v. United States). Under Winters, Indian reservations have a right to all the water they need as of the date they were created, regardless of when, or if, the water is first put to use.

The Litigation

In 1969, the Indian Bands sued the City of Escondido and the Vista Irrigation District. The suit charged that US law protecting Indian reservation water rights was violated and that the Secretary of the Interior exceeded his authority in reaching water agreements on behalf of the Indian Bands. A series of hearings in 1980 on the Indian Bands' and the United States' motions for partial summary judgment upheld that position.

The Settlement

In 1988, the Indians negotiated a partial settlement compensation of $30 million through the San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act (Public Law 100-675). The funds are used by the Bands for economic development and to operate the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority. And, in addition to arranging the delivery of water for the Indian Bands, the settlement preserved water for the non-Indian communities that have come to rely on it.

About Bob Pelcyger

In 1968, Bob Pelcyger was hired by the California Indian Legal Services and would attend workshops in Riverside County. During this time, Patricia Duro from the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians went to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and approached Bob with a contract, which led to the beginning of the lawsuit.


“That led me to suggest to the tribal leaders that there was another way to approach this issue which would not be based solely on monetary relief, but that there could be a case to be made for getting the water back, and that the contracts could be challenged.”

“My goal was to undo the wrongs that had been done by the US Government when it allowed Escondido and Vista to divert most of the San Luis Rey River water out of the watershed.”

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phone: +1 (760) 742-1903
San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority
PO Box 428
Pauma Valley, CA 92061