Water Wars in the Coachella Valley

The potential cost of a federal lawsuit over water rights and quality

Water Wars 2

Coachella Valley - A battle over water rights and water quality here in the Coachella Valley may come at a large cost.

The first court hearing in a lawsuit filed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians against two local water agencies is now scheduled for Dec. 16th.
David Luker, general manager of Desert Water Agency, says the lawsuit is going to be expensive, $400,000 to $500,000 just to get through the first court level and then there could be appeals.

On the other side, Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Jeff Grubbe won't say what the legal battle is costing the tribe.  He only says it's expensive and a fight they're willing to take on.

"We want a seat at the table and if we don't address these issues now, it's going to be more expensive and harder to do down the road," Grubbe says.

One issue is water rights.  The tribe claims it has senior rights ahead of the local water agencies.

Coachella Valley Water District General Manager Jim Barrett doesn't agree.

"Our interpretation is the water of the Coachella Valley belongs to everyone, you, me, the general public, the tribe," Barrett says.

Another key issue is imported water from the Colorado River, which the tribe maintains is of poor quality.  The lawsuit seeks an injunction stopping those water shipments.

Grubbe says the tribe doesn't actually want to stop the water shipments.  He argues the water should be filtered before it goes into the aquifer, something he admits could get expensive for ratepayers.

"We understand it's expensive.  I don't know what the true number is, somewhere around $500 a year a ratepayer.  I think it's worth it.  I mean the rates are going up over the years pretty high and we're not paying for cleaner water," Grubbe says.

The water districts counter that with two points.  First, the valley's ground water meets or exceeds all standards.  Second, it's not clear how much it would cost to filter the water before it's put into the ground.

A lot of question marks have be settled by a federal court.  And the potential impact on your bill isn't clear.

More information on each sides' arguments can be found at the following websites:

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The Coachella Valley Water District

Desert Water Agency

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