Palm Springs, California, in the homelands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Photo: Wayne Hsieh

Agua Caliente Band moves forward with next phase of water case

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians can proceed with the next phase of a water rights lawsuit in southern California.

The tribe already won two landmark rulings confirming that it has a right to groundwater on the reservation. Judge Jesus Bernal has now agreed to quantify the exact amount even as opponents take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We believe it's in everyone's best interest to allow the lawsuit to move forward while the water districts try to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court," Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said in a press release on Wednesday.

Bernal's decision in favor of the tribe was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in March. But the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District are trying to get that ruling overturned.

The districts also wanted Bernal to delay the second phase, which includes a determination of whether the tribe has a right to a certain quality of water. But he said there was no reason to wait in an order on Monday, a copy of which was posted by Turtle Talk.

“This case was filed over four years ago and has been stalled for two years since this court recognized the tribe’s rights to the groundwater underlying its reservation,” the order stated. “During those two years, the water agencies have continued to pump groundwater, damaged the water quality of the aquifer by pumping lower quality Colorado River water, and continued to exclude the tribe from its rightful role in groundwater management.”

The water districts have not yet filed a petition with the Supreme Court but have been granted an extension until July 5 to do so, according to Docket No. 16A958. Once the petition is filed, the tribe will be able to respond.

But that doesn't mean the case will be accepted -- the justices have to agree to grant the petition. They only accept a small percentage of petitions and they haven't heard a tribal water rights case in nearly two decades.

Read More on the Story:
Tribe’s landmark water case will proceed while agencies appeal to Supreme Court (The Palm Springs Desert Sun 6/7)
Judge rules that tribe's case against Coachella Valley water agencies will proceed (City News Service 6/7)

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District (March 7, 2017)

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