According to Turtle Talk, this month the U.S. Department of Justice stood in defense of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who have brought a lawsuit against two California water agencies. The tribe is accusing the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency of mismanaging the groundwater by depleting it and then replenishing it with salty, impure water from the Colorado River. The ongoing conflict is currently in Phase One of litigation.
According to the information on Turtle Talk, on December 5th, the Coachella Valley tribal attorney filed an opposition to CVWD’s recent Motion for Summary Judgment. The attorney reminded the court that the decision at hand determines only the status of the Indian tribe’s reserved rights to groundwater and not quantification. He referenced Supreme Court decisions, including Winters v. United States (1908) and United States vs. New Mexico (1978), in support of the federal government’s power to hold water rights for the benefit of Native American tribes and other purposes.
The information provided by Turtle Talk said the tribe’s lawyer requested that CVWD’s Motion be denied because their arguments were based on misstatements and inappropriate conflation of subjects. He emphasized that the defendant’s mention of United States v. New Mexico (1978) brought quantification into play, which should be addressed in Phase Three. He accused CVWD of erroneously suggesting that the court in that case performed a test to see if water had been reserved.
The federal lawyer also claimed that California laws had been misrepresented as well, again incorporating quantification into the Phase One debate. He continued by stressing the importance of groundwater to the residents of the reservation, referring to it as the “lifeblood of the community”. In conclusion, the Coachella Valley tribal attorney opposed the claim that an Act of Congress had extinguished the Agua Caliente’s aboriginal status in 1851 and that pre-reservation priority dates had been barred.
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If you have a question or tribal concern and believe you have a case, contact our tribal attorneys in Coachella Valley. We’ve handled many cases for tribal leaders and citizens. Contact us at 760-322-2275 to schedule a consultation.