A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that found the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has priority federal rights to groundwater in the Coachella Valley. At stake in the nationally-watched case is control over the region’s groundwater. Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District appealed the lower court ruling in an effort to protect the public’s access and right to water.
The litigation process began in 2013 when Agua Caliente filed a lawsuit seeking unprecedented rights to groundwater, superseding all other water users. The initial ruling determined that Agua Caliente does have priority rights, opening up the door for court-approved control of the groundwater basin.
DWA and CVWD may pursue an appeal with the United States Supreme Court in the precedent-setting case, or the case will return to the federal district court for the next phases of the trial, which will determine how groundwater supplies are divided up amongst water users.
The Coachella Valley groundwater basin today serves millions of residents, visitors and businesses, and is carefully managed by public agencies that are accountable to the community. CVWD and DWA have publicly-elected Boards of Directors and are bound to transparency requirements for local government agencies. Agua Caliente has not stated how it will use the groundwater supplies. They could sell water back to the public or it could use the water for any purpose. This could drive up rates for local residents and businesses.
Sustaining the region’s groundwater basin requires continued responsible stewardship and experienced management. Decades ago, our local water managers engineered an approach to groundwater management that serves as a model for legislation and programs nationwide. This approach rests on long-term commitment, expertise and active replenishment with water imported from the Colorado River, which serves as a source of drinking water for 33 million people. DWA and CVWD remain committed to continuing this good work.
Click here to learn more about the Water Rights Lawsuit.