Agua Caliente files lawsuit seeking control of local water rights

Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency both deny tribal claims of mismanagement

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians filed suit Tuesday asking a federal court to declare the Tribe's water rights to the local aquifer as the controlling rights in the Coachella Valley.

In a press release, the Tribe claims the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Desert Water Agency (DWA) have injured its members and other local residents by "impairing the quantity and quality of water in the aquifer."

"The failed stewardship of the Coachella Valley's most precious resource by these water districts has to stop," said Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe. "We do not take this action lightly but as a Sovereign Nation, we have a responsibility, as well as a commitment to communities in the Coachella Valley, to protect and preserve the Valley's natural resources. We cannot sit idly by as the aquifer continues to be depleted and the water polluted. Our water quality is among the worst in the State." 

The tribe claims the CVWD and DWA have been over-drafting from the aquifer for years and recharging it with water from the Colorado River "which contains higher total dissolved solids, nitrates, pesticides, and other contaminants."

The Tribe claims this recharge water is injected into the Coachella Valley aquifer "at a facility close to the Tribe's lands."

Desert Water Agency responds

DWA board president, Patricia Oygar, issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"We are deeply disappointed by the filing of a lawsuit based on misinformation regarding the quality of the Coachella Valley water supply and an overly broad claim to surface and groundwater rights that is neither supported by the law or previous court rulings.

"DWA has met all state and federal water quality requirements, and the entire region, including the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, has benefitted from the economic growth made possible with the safe, affordable and reliable water supply provided by the agency." 

Coachella Valley Water District responds

"Coachella Valley Water District has been working with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for the past year to further our mutual understanding of all the issues surrounding groundwater use and replenishment in the valley. Therefore, it was disappointing to learn this afternoon that the tribe has filed a lawsuit against the district based on misinformation regarding drinking water quality."

The statement goes on, saying the CVWD is "a State Water Contractor and has Colorado River rights, enabling the agency to import vital supplemental water supplies for agricultural and golf course irrigation, as well as groundwater replenishment."

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