Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
has rights to groundwater, Ninth Circuit confirms
PALM SPRINGS, CA - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, upheld a 2015 lower court decision that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has a right to groundwater in the Coachella Valley - a right that the federal government set aside for the Tribe when it created its Reservation in the late 1870s.
"The Ninth Circuit's decision today validates the Tribe's work to protect and preserve the Coachella Valley's most important natural resource," Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said. "This is another critical step toward how water will be responsibly managed in the future."
The three-judge panel affirmed the lower federal District Court's partial summary judgement in favor of the Agua Caliente Tribe and against the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District in the first phase of a lawsuit over the Tribe's water rights.
"Because the United States intended to reserve water when it established a home for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, we hold that the district court did not err in determining that the government reserved appurtenant water sources - including groundwater - when it created the tribe's reservation in the Coachella Valley," the opinion states.
This most recent ruling affirms what Agua Caliente has sought from the water districts for over 20 years, which is recognition of its legitimate ownership interest in groundwater in the Coachella Valley and its interest in responsible management of the aquifer's condition.
Groundwater in the Coachella Valley aquifer is currently managed by local water districts, including Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District. For years, the rate of the water drawn from the aquifer has depleted natural levels, which is known as "over-drafting" of the aquifer.
In addition, the rate of use has meant that the natural replenishment cycle has not been able to return enough water to match historic water levels. In turn, water districts began importing low-quality water from the Colorado River to replenish the water levels in the aquifer. Instead of pre-treating this water, the water districts put the water, as is, into the aquifer, which has significantly degraded the quality of the natural groundwater.
"These practices are not acceptable for long-term health and viability of the Coachella Valley water supply," Chairman Grubbe said. "We called out this detrimental practice and brought it to the attention of the water districts over and over for years but were repeatedly ignored."
Agua Caliente Band Of Cahuilla Indians
About the Tribe: The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is a federally recognized Indian Tribe located in Palm Springs, California, with 31,500 acres of reservation land that spread across Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. The Tribe currently owns and operates two 18-hole championship golf courses, the Spa Resort Casino in downtown Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage. For more information about the Tribe, visit: www.aguacaliente-nsn.gov.