The United States Supreme Court announced today it will not review a court decision in a lawsuit that the Agua Caliente Tribe filed against Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and Desert Water Agency (DWA) in 2013 seeking unprecedented rights to groundwater, superseding all other water users. The decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, granting superior rights to groundwater to the Tribe will remain in effect.
“We are disappointed in the decision because we believe the water in this valley is a shared resources that belongs to everyone,” said CVWD Board president John Powell, Jr. “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.”
Water rights have always been shared by the public, including the Agua Caliente and its approximately 440 members. The Agua Caliente has not said publicly how much water the Tribe wants access to or how it would use that water.
Following this decision, the water agencies expect a lengthy and expensive legal process for all water users in the Coachella Valley. The federal District Court will likely need to engage in a full groundwater adjudication, dividing the water resources between the Agua Caliente Tribe and the residents, businesses, agricultural and golf communities and other tribes. Rates will likely increase as water availability becomes more limited.
“This case could completely change water management in our area, said DWA Board President Jim Cioffi. “We will continue to protect the interests of the community through this lawsuit and any efforts to divvy up local groundwater rights.”
CVWD and DWA have carefully managed local water resources through years of drought for the community as a whole. The Tribe’s control over groundwater could frustrate attempts to manage groundwater for the future and undermine the state’s groundwater regulation system. The Tribe is a private entity that is not required to comply with state sustainability laws or share water management information.
The Coachella Valley’s water supply is now in uncharted territory. Western states have developed complex legal regimes and permitting systems to protect groundwater basins from ever-increasing demands on water resources. The decision will drastically complicate, and in some locations could entirely defeat, these state and local efforts to manage groundwater resources efficiently. This is why ten states and multiple organizations weighed in to support the local water agencies’ petition to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Phase 2 of this lawsuit, deciding whether the Tribe owns storage space within the groundwater basins is currently underway.
For more information about this lawsuit, visit www.dwa.org/lawsuits or www.cvwd.org/lawsuit.
Desert Water Agency is a public, non-profit agency and a State Water Contractor, serving a 325-square-mile area, including parts of Cathedral City, outlying county areas, Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs. An elected five-member board sets policy and represents the ratepayers. For more information, please visit www.dwa.org.
Coachella Valley Water District is a public, non-profit agency serving domestic water, irrigation water, wastewater collection and reclamation services, regional stormwater protection and groundwater replenishment over a 1,000-square-mile area, including parts of Cathedral City to the Salton Sea communities. CVWD is a State Water Contractor and operates the 123-mile Coachella Canal to import Colorado River water to the region. An elected five-member board sets policy and represents the ratepayers. For more information, please visit www.cvwd.org.