Palm Desert City Council weighs in against tribe’s water lawsuit

July 12th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

Palm Desert’s City Council has become the first in the Coachella Valley to take an official position on the water rights lawsuit brought by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. In a vote Thursday, the City Council agreed to send a letter to the tribe raising concerns about its lawsuit.

In the letter, signed by Mayor Jan Harnik, the City Council urged Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Jeff Grubbe to “end your lawsuit” against the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District.

“We support an end to this lawsuit because it is creating great uncertainty about the future of our region’s water supply. Such uncertainty threatens the prosperity of Coachella Valley residents, businesses, and the region’s economy as a whole,” the mayor said in the letter.

“While we respect your tribe’s position in this matter, the Coachella Valley’s groundwater belongs to the public and should not be restricted by any single group,” the mayor said. “The lawsuit appears to threaten the public’s future access to water, as it does not clearly identify the amount of water that your tribe desires or what you wish to do with it.”

Harnik said the City Council hopes that all parties “can initiate an open dialogue on the issues.”

Grubbe said the Agua Caliente tribe has no intention of dropping its lawsuit.

“As disappointed as we are that Palm Desert’s City Council didn’t bother to hear the Tribe’s perspective prior to voting on this letter, we are even more disappointed that Palm Desert’s City Council delivered it to the media before delivering it to the Tribe,” Grubbe said in a statement. “The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the City of Palm Desert released this letter as part of a PR campaign rather than a serious or respectful attempt to dialogue with a neighboring government. This is consistent with the pattern of behavior by CVWD and DWA that led to the Tribe’s decision to initiate this litigation in the first place.”

The tribe is suing the water agencies in attempt to assert rights to water in the aquifer beneath its reservation, which includes parts of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage. The tribe says the agencies have allowed the aquifer to be overexploited while partially replenishing it using less pure Colorado River water with higher levels of total dissolved solids.

“The Tribe’s lawsuit will continue because it is about one thing: ending mismanagement of the Coachella Valley’s water resources and protecting it for generations of residents to come,” Grubbe said.

The water agencies have asked a federal court to dismiss the case, saying that the quality of water delivered to customers meets federal and state standards and that the tribe doesn’t have special rights to the area’s groundwater.

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