Agua Caliente Band wins first round in water rights litigation

A view of the Agua Caliente Reservation in southern California. Photo from Facebook

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in southern California has a federally-reserved right to water, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

Judge Jesus Bernal said the rights were reserved when President Rutherford B. Hayes set aside the tribe's land base by executive order in 1877. A trial will determine the extent of those rights.

"This decision validates the tribe's diligent work to protect and preserve one of the Valley's most important natural resources," Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said in a
press release.

The tribe sued the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency two years ago to seek a determination of its rights. The Department of Justice is supporting the tribe.

The ruling was based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Winters v. US. The 1908 case held that the creation of a reservation automatically implies the right to use water for agricultural, domestic and other purposes.

"The federal government intended to reserve water for the tribe’s use on its reservation," Bernal wrote in the 14-page decision. "Rights to the groundwater underlying the reservation are appurtenant to the reservation itself."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District.

Get the Story:
Court ruling could impact future of Coachella Valley water management (KESQ 3/23)
Agua Caliente tribe’s water lawsuit moving to trial (The Palm Springs Desert Sun 3/21)

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