Agua Caliente Band back in federal court to defend water rights

Agua Caliente Band Chairman Jeff Grubbe speaks at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in San Diego, California, on October 22, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians was back in court this week to defend its water rights.

The tribe won a major decision confirming its right to
groundwater on the southern California reservation. But two local agencies are asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling.

The Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District say the tribe is only entitled to surface water. Judges who heard the case on Tuesday were skeptical of that argument, The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.

“This is the first time we would have talked really directly about groundwater,” Judge Morgan Christen said at the hearing, the paper reported. “This is a very significant issue.”

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals oral arguments in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla v. Coachella Valley Water District October 18, 2016

The Department of Justice is siding with the Agua Caliente Band. So is Indian Country -- dozens of tribes signed onto a brief in support of the lower court's decision.

"Tribes rely substantially or exclusively on groundwater for domestic, commercial, municipal and light industrial purposes on reservations or other trust lands," the brief read. "These uses confirm that groundwater is critical to ensuring that Indian reservations are ‘a permanent home and abiding place,’" it continued, citing the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Winters v. United States case from 1908.

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

Read More on the Story:
Federal court weighs whether Agua Caliente tribe holds rights to groundwater (The Palm Springs Desert Sun 10/19)

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