Updates with Coachella Valley Water Facilities and Tribes

Since May 20, 2013, there has been a legal tug-of-war between the Coachella Valley Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency. This is a truly complex legal battle where a Coachella Valley tribal attorney can help shed light on issues pertaining to tribal rights and for the environment.

A Brief Background

In 2013, the tribe filed a lawsuit to prevent the two agencies from continuing the practice of recharging the aquifer with surface water from the Colorado River, an intervention that could degrade the quality of the groundwater. In effect, the tribe was challenging the agencies’ right to manage the aquifer and asserting its rights over a resource within the reservation. In June 2014, the U.S. government gave its support to the tribe on this issue.

According to The Desert Sun in March 20, 2015, U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that groundwater and surface water from the Coachella aquifer were indeed reserved for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This ruling was based on the 1908 Winters Doctrine, which guaranteed the provision of water for the needs of Native Americans living on federally reserved lands.

The Latest Challenge

On August 19, 2015, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency asked the court to pause the tribe’s suit while they appealed the march 20, 2015 ruling. In a recent news story on Law 360, Caroline Simson mentions that the two agencies do not believe continuing their current protocol will seriously damage the aquifer. They argue that tribe’s federal rights (and what these specifically entail) will only be determined after the lawsuit’s second phase. In the meantime, the Coachella Valley Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians asserts that the agencies play down the degradation and depletion of the groundwater in the basin.

This fight over water poses fundamental question about the rights of the different tribes to participate in the management of resources within the reservation. It also has serious implications on how water quality can be preserved and who can intervene in its protection. In complex cases like this, a Coachella Valley tribal attorney can provide invaluable assistance.