Significant Court Victory Towards Securing the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ Water Future


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Beautiful Andreas Canyon oasis, within the Indian Canyons Tribal ParkFor decades, water agencies in the Coachella Valley have depleted the underground aquifer and replenished the pristine aquifer water with degraded Colorado River water.  Frustrated with these practices, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians filed a lawsuit in 2013 against the water agencies, asserting an ownership interest in the water and challenging the water management methods.  NARF, along with Kilpatrick Townsend law firm, represented the tribe in its quest to secure its right to water and its role in ensuring a sustainable water future. In 2015, a federal district court ruled in the tribe’s favor that the tribe’s water rights did include the groundwater under the reservation lands.  The water agencies appealed the decision.

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that upheld the district court’s 2015 ruling that the tribe “has a reserved right to groundwater underlying its reservation as a result of the purpose for which the reservation was established.”  The ruling is a significant victory for the tribe and the Coachella Valley, where the tribe and its ancestors have lived since time immemorial.  NARF Executive Director John Echohawk stated, “We know that Indian Tribes need to be able to count on having safe and reliable water supplies in order to successfully plan for their future generations’ ability to live healthy and successful lives, build economies, and continue cultural practices.”

Congratulations to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in securing its right to clean water and sustainable water management!

See the full NARF press release below.

See the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ press release on its victory, at the tribe’s Facebook page

See the court’s opinion and related briefs in the case on the Turtle Talk blog.

 

NARF PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Pasadena, CA – On March 7, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a landmark water case involving claims to groundwater underlying Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley in California.  In Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. CVWD, et al., the appellate court upheld a 2015 decision by the federal district court for the Central District of California, ruling that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has a reserved right to water, including groundwater under its Reservation.

In finding that the federal reserved rights doctrine, or Winters Doctrine, applies to the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, and that the Winters Doctrine encompasses groundwater, the court stated, “[w]e hold that the Tribe has a reserved right to groundwater underlying its reservation as a result of the purpose for which the reservation was established.”

The Tribe filed the lawsuit against the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency in the spring of 2013, asserting an ownership interest in the aquifer under the Valley floor, and challenging a decades long practice by the water districts of depleting the water in the aquifer and using degraded Colorado River water to partially replenish the supply.  The Tribe has complained for years that the districts did not have a long term plan to responsibly and sustainably manage this precious resource.  The districts have ignored the Tribe’s concerns repeatedly over the years.

NARF Executive Director John Echohawk stated, “We know that Indian Tribes need to be able to count on having safe and reliable water supplies in order to successfully plan for their future generations’ ability to live healthy and successful lives, build economies, and continue cultural practices.  We welcome this important victory and applaud the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for its ongoing commitment to securing a strong water future.  Other tribes throughout the United States also support the Agua Caliente and will stand together with them to protect this victory.”

The case is a significant victory for the Tribe and the Coachella Valley, where it and its ancestors have lived since time immemorial.  NARF, along with the Washington, D.C. based Kilpatrick Townsend law firm, represent the Tribe in its quest to secure its right to water, and its role in ensuring a sustainable water future.

The Tribe has issued a press release on its victory, at
https://www.facebook.com/AguaCalienteIndians/posts/1493210547355604

For more information about the Tribe, visit www.aguacaliente-nsn.gov.

 

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