June 01, 2017

Ninth Circuit Applies Winters Doctrine to Groundwater

Jessica Duggan

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuila Indians’ reservation overlies the Coachella Valley groundwater basin in Southern California. Groundwater is perhaps the most critical water resource for California’s water future. In an arid climate, surface waters often are available only seasonally and unreliably. Because of this, many big water users have opted to simply pump groundwater, and have been doing so with little or no oversight for decades. As a result, water levels in the aquifer underlying the tribe’s reservation have been in constant decline. Since the 1980s, the amount of water extracted from the underground basin has exceeded the recharge rate, despite major efforts to recharge the basin with water delivered from the California Water Project and the Colorado River. Because of this, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuila Indians was concerned about the continued viability of the Coachella Valley groundwater basin.

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