Property Rights

Desert Water Authority & Coachella Valley Water District v. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

A federal “reservation” of groundwater implicates takings liability for users exercising state water rights

The Agua Caliente tribe resides on a federal reservation that consists of a patchwork of parcels throughout California’s Coachella Valley. The tribe runs several commercial enterprises on the land, including casinos, hotels, and the like. Under California law, the tribe shares rights to the valley’s groundwater with other cities, water agencies, and individuals whose property overlies the water. Under the federal reservation of water rights doctrine, however, whenever the federal government withdraws land from the public domain (for an Indian reservation or national forest) it impliedly reserves the right to sufficient water to fulfill the purpose of the law withdrawal.

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