States and major organizations across the west have asked the United States Supreme Court to review a lawsuit that could shift control of local groundwater away from the public to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This week, ten states; the National Water Resources Association; the Pacific Legal Foundation; the Western Coalition of Arid States; and the Irrigation & Electrical Districts’ Association of Arizona filed or signed on to briefs in support of the local, public water agencies, Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District.
The states that weighed in with support were Nevada, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The lawsuit, filed by Agua Caliente in 2013, has set precedent in the Ninth Circuit (CA, OR, WA, AZ, NV, ID, MT, HI, AK) and will establish precedent throughout the country if the Supreme Court picks up the case this fall.
For years, DWA have delivered water to Agua Caliente’s hotels, casinos and golf courses. The agencies also serve thousands of homes and businesses that lease Agua Caliente land. The lawsuit is not about Agua Caliente getting wet water, but about an exclusive reserved right to groundwater. Tribes of all shapes and sizes across the west are watching this case closely, as are federal agencies since the ruling could apply to federal land.
The deadline for amici or ‘friends of the court’ to file briefs in the lawsuit brought by Agua Caliente against the two public water agencies was today. The local water agencies filed petitions on July 5 asking the Supreme Court to review the special right bestowed to the Agua Caliente by the Ninth Circuit Court. By fall, there should be a determination on whether the Supreme Court will hear this case.
If the Court agrees to review the nationally-watched case, it would be heard in 2017 or early 2018 and the Court would likely announce its decision by June 2018. If the Supreme Court decides to review the case and reverses the lower court ruling, it would end litigation on this matter. If the Supreme Court does not review the case or upholds the lower court ruling, the case would continue on to determine if Agua Caliente also has a special right to water quality and an exclusive right to storage, and, finally, how much water is reserved exclusively for Agua Caliente.
The litigation began in 2013 when Agua Caliente filed a lawsuit seeking unprecedented rights to groundwater, superseding all other water users. Water rights have always been shared by the public, including the Agua Caliente and its approximately 480 members. The Agua Caliente has not said publicly how much water they want access to or how they would use that water.