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Isleta Gets Funds to Restore Forest

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    Isleta Pueblo is getting $40 million from the federal government to drain swampy wetlands and restore damaged forest under a settlement of a 10-year-old lawsuit.
    Isleta Pueblo Gov. J. Robert Benavides said Tuesday the remediation work could take years, and should result in acres of useless swamp land being turned into profitable farmland.
    The pueblo contended in a lawsuit filed against the federal government in 1996 that when the Bureau of Reclamation built the Isleta Diversion Dam at the pueblo in 1933, it raised the water table and ruined farmland. The lawsuit also alleged the Department of Interior mismanaged forest in the Manzano Mountains it holds in trust for the pueblo.
    The lawsuit was settled last year, and Congress took up the issue of funding the remediation.
    The Pueblo of Isleta Settlement and Natural Resources Restoration Act of 2006 passed unanimously out of the Senate late Monday and is being sent to President Bush for his approval.
    It sets aside $32.8 million and authorizes another $7.2 million from future budgets for restoration.
    Benavides said the pueblo will do thinning work in the Manzanos to reduce fire danger and install some type of drainage system to dry out about 1,000 acres of damaged farm land.
    "The waterlogged areas will put water back into the river, which will be good for not only Isleta but everybody down south," Benavides said.
    Funding for the settlement was sponsored by New Mexico's senators, Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
    "The pueblo deserves this compensation and the president's signature on this bill will allow that to happen," Domenici said in a statement.
    Bingaman said in a statement, "This measure will allow Isleta Pueblo to restore lands that had been mismanaged by the Interior Department, and help create new economic opportunities."