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U.S. Supreme Court will not hear appeal on Coachella Valley groundwater

By in Press Enterprise on November 27, 2017

By Timothy Guy

The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to review a lower court decision in which the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians was granted rights to groundwater beneath the tribe’s reservation in the Coachella Valley.

The tribe successfully sued the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District in 2013, claiming that the agencies degraded water quality by overdrafting the aquifer. The DWA and CVWD appealed, but with their petition denied by the Supreme Court, the next legal proceedings will involve deciding how the groundwater supplies are to be divided between the tribe and other valley residents.

The agencies denounced the decision in a joint statement, saying it gives the tribe “unprecedented” control over the groundwater.

“We are disappointed in the decision because we believe the water in this valley is a shared resource that belongs to everyone,” CVWD board President John Powell Jr. said. “The tribe has always had access to as much water as they requested, but now they have secured a water right that is superior to every other resident and business in the Coachella Valley.”

A federal judge ruled in 2015 that the tribe had a right to the groundwater, a decision that was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. The courts ruled that the tribe gained the rights to the water when its reservation was created in the late 1870s.

“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 appellate opinion read.

The agencies said the ruling could make local groundwater management problematic, as the tribe is a private entity […]    

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