Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued its decision in the case of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District. The case started when the Tribe filed a court action seeking a declaration that it has a federally reserved water right to groundwater underlying the Tribe's reservation. The federal government intervened in the case and also asserted that the Tribe had a reserved right to groundwater. The case was divided into three phases, with the first phase being to determine if the Tribe has a reserved right to groundwater. In the first phase, the federal district court ruled in the Tribe's favor, and the ruling was appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit acknowledged that under the Winters doctrine, federal reserved water rights are directly applicable to Indian reservations, but recognized that prior applications of the Winters doctrine had been only for surface water and that no court had squarely addressed the question of whether the doctrine extended to groundwater. The Court looked at the primary purposes of the reservation and extended the Winters doctrine to include groundwater. The Court noted that some reservations lack perennial streams and therefore depend on pumping groundwater for present and future survival sustainability.
To read the full decision, click here.

No comments: