Indian Canyon in the homelands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Photo: Christoph Steinhard

Agua Caliente Band faces opposition from states as Supreme Court weighs water case

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians hasn't even had time to defend its water rights and already 10 state governments are opposing the tribe.

In March, the tribe won a historic decision that confirmed its groundwater rights in southern California. Two local water districts are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the victory.

The tribe's response isn't due until September 6, according to Docket No. 17-40 and Docket No. 17-42. But Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt (R) is already urging the high court to hear the case on behalf of 10 states by somehow claiming that the federal government is interfering.

"“Western states like Nevada are particularly impacted by the current uncertainty of groundwater rights created by this recent Ninth Circuit decision,” Laxalt said in a press release. “By filing this brief, my office encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps to clarify the States’ groundwater rights and to ensure Nevada’s best interests are being protected from unnecessary and unwarranted federal interference."

The states that signed onto the brief are Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Except for Arkansas, all are home to tribes, some with significant land bases.

The states aren't the only ones opposing the tribe either. The Pacific Legal Foundation, the National Water Resources Association, the Western Coalition of Arid States and the Irrigation and Electrical Districts’ Association of Arizona also filed briefs, The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.

There is no guarantee the Supreme Court will accept the case. But the issue of groundwater for tribes is a unique one so the justices might be interested.

"The United States Supreme Court has not yet directly addressed the issue of whether an Indian tribe can obtain a Winters right to groundwater," notes attorney Judy Dworkin. Winters is a historic 1908 case that opened the door for tribes to secure water rights.

The case is Coachella Valley Water District v. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Desert Water Agency v. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Read More on the Story:
10 states back California agencies in fight with tribe over groundwater (The Palm Springs Desert Sun August 8, 2017)

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

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