Client Successes Apr 24, 2019

Tribe Lacks Standing in Water Suit

Representing Desert Water Agency, BB&K Attorneys Won Partial Dismissal of Case

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Best Best & Krieger LLP attorneys successfully defended a lawsuit filed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians against two water agencies by showing the tribe lacked standing to pursue federal claims involving groundwater quality and water supply. In a decision handed down Friday, the court found that the tribe was not harmed by the agencies because the agencies provided the tribe with as much high-quality water as it needs. The decision leaves only one issue unresolved in the long-standing dispute between the tribe and the Coachella Valley Water District and BB&K client Desert Water Agency.
 
Of Counsel Roderick Walston told Law360 that the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California was critical not only to DWA, but to other public water agencies. It would have been “prohibitively expensive” for agencies if they were required to implement groundwater quality improvement measures, he told the legal newspaper.
 
The Desert Sun reported that “[t]he case has been expected to have far-reaching effects for Indian water rights throughout the West and across the country. But if the latest ruling stands, tribes could face a high legal bar in trying to clarify their rights to certain quantities of groundwater.”
 
The court previously gave the tribe certain reserved water rights. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the water agencies’ petition appealing that ruling in 2017. This latest decision acknowledges those rights, but notes that the tribe did not present evidence to show the water agencies caused injury to the tribe. The tribe has the option to appeal this ruling. Also, an issue remains to be resolved in the case involving the tribe’s claim of ownership in storage space for groundwater under the reservation.
 
CVWD and DWA deliver water to Agua Caliente hotels, casinos, golf courses and other developments, as well as to thousands of homes and businesses that lease tribal land in the Coachella Valley, according to a joint statement released by the agencies.
 
In addition to Walston, DWA was represented by BB&K attorneys Piero Dallarda, Arthur Littleworth, Michael Riddell, Wendy Wang and Miles Krieger.
 
The case is Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District et al., Case No. 5:13-cv-00883
 

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