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Sacred Burial Site vs. Water Project

At a June 17, 2010 meeting with SOHO representatives present in support, the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) voted unanimously to recognize a Lakeside parcel as a Native American ceremonial site and sanctified cemetery, stalling plans by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District to build a $20 million reservoir and pipeline approximately two acres south of I-8 near Lake Jennings Park Road and Old Highway 80. The water district believes the secondary pipeline and reservoir are necessary to provide improved water supply reliability critical to the protection of the 30,000 residents of Blossom Valley, Flinn Springs, Crest, Harbison Canyon and Alpine that it would serve, in the event of backcountry wildfires or water supply interruptions caused by the vulnerable 55-year old system now in use.

Although qualified Native American monitors and experts hired by the water district in 2007 indicated that significant tribal cultural resources were present and recommended that construction on the site be avoided, the water district approved the project saying it would not have any potentially significant negative effect on cultural resources.

Subsequent archaeological investigation has turned up human remains and a very high density of burned pottery shards, indicating a sacred burial ground and ceremonial place where cremated Native Americans were buried in sacred pottery urns.

Prior to the NAHC vote, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, who have been designated as the most likely descendents of those buried at the site, requested that the water district fully assess the site and construction plans in order to prevent further desecration and agreed to work with the water district to review other alternative sites. On June 8, they were granted a temporary restraining order in the Superior Court of California-San Diego County to halt the Padre Dam Municipal Water District from "further desecrating a recently-unearthed Kumeyaay burial and ceremonial ground". Six days later, Padre Dam Municipal Water District's CEO and General Manger Doug Wilson stated in a letter to Padre Dam's customers, "Despite this unfortunate situation, Padre Dam looks forward to working with Viejas and all other stakeholders to complete the Secondary Connection Project in a timely and efficient manner. We intend to work with Native American monitors as previously agreed, to be respectful of any Native American artifacts and bone fragments discovered during construction, and to repatriate all discoveries on site as directed."

Wilson has also stated that his agency is losing $150,000 a month due to delays and moving it to another site could double the $20 million cost. Padre Dam's board of directors will discuss what their next step will be at an upcoming meeting. As state and federal laws mandate strict protection of Indian burial grounds, NAHC's decision means the state could sue the water district if they proceed with building on the site.

Volume 41 - 2010

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