Coachella Valley Region: A huge victory for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Monday as the Supreme Court decides the tribe does have rights to ground water in the Coachella Valley.

In 2013 the tribe sued both the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District, accusing them of allowing water levels to dwindle and replenishing the aquifer with lower quality water. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tribe and the Supreme Court backed that ruling.

In the past, groundwater in the desert was a shared resource. But the Supreme Court's decision just changed that.

"The decision today gave the Agua Caliente a superior right to all other users," said Aashley Metzger, Outreach and Conservation Manager for the Desert Water Agency.

Down the road, that could mean consumers will pay more for water.

"If you're talking about a supply of water and it may become more and more finite, then that's something that will have an impact on our ability to provide water," Metzger said.

The ruling is only the first phase of the tribes lawsuit. A federal court will next decide if the tribe has rights to storage space within the aquifer and then finally how much ground water the tribe is entitled to.

"I would tend to agree with the decision. The results of it may be very difficult to a lot of people, but as I said, I think that tribes in general have been treated very shabbily for the last couple hundred years," said Palm Springs resident Bill Noren.

The courts will likely need to divide all ground water between the Agua Caliente Tribe, residents and businesses.

"I don't agree with that. I don't think that's right. It's underground and comes from other sources. Everyone can say they claim and own the water underground. So I think the Indians are trying to take advantage," said Indio resident Jim Linker.

The tribe issued a statement saying part, "Because of the Supreme Court's decision, the favorable rulings from the Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals recognizing and protecting the Reservation's federal water right are now settled law."

The tribe did not address any concerns in the community about what the ruling will mean for water rates nor did they mention their intentions for the groundwater in the future.
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