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Local Water Agency Asks Supreme Court To Review Tribal Rights Case

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The publicly elected Board of Directors of Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and Desert Water Agency (DWA) have decided to ask the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that gives unprecedented groundwater rights to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The formal request for review will likely be submitted early this summer with the U.S. Supreme Court likely to accept or deny review of the case this fall.

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 the Agua Caliente has a right to water quality and water storage, and, finally, how much water Agua Caliente is entitled to.

"We don't know how much water the Agua Caliente want or what they would do with it but they have said that they are an entrepreneurial organization," said DWA Board President, James Cioffi. "CVWD and DWA serve but don't own the water. We are stewards that manage local water openly and transparently without a profit."

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Agua Caliente has stated that it would like the agencies to stop replenishing the groundwater basin with imported, untreated Colorado River water, a practice that has prevented groundwater levels from falling drastically, even as the valley has grown. The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for about 33 million people. The water served by CVWD and DWA is some of the best in the nation and meets all federal and state standards. 

"Granting control of the groundwater to the Tribe could seriously affect the future of this valley," said CVWD Board President, John Powell. "We represent the public and have been working to protect their supply for today and tomorrow. It only makes sense to pursue an appeal on behalf of all the water users in the Coachella Valley."

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CVWD's Board on Tuesday also engaged O'Melveny & Myers LLP to supplement the current legal representation provided by Redwine and Sherrill.
Much of the groundwork for seeking review in the U.S. Supreme Court has been completed. The litigation began in 2013 when Agua Caliente filed a lawsuit seeking unprecedented rights to groundwater, superseding all other water users. Water rights had 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. 

For years, CVWD and DWA have delivered water to the Agua Caliente's hotels, casinos and golf courses. The agencies also serve thousands of homes and businesses built on tribal land. Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that asserted that Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has federal rights to groundwater in the Coachella Valley above all other users.

More information about this lawsuit can be found at www.dwa.org/lawsuits or www.cvwd.org
 

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