Havasupai Can’t Sue for Water Without USA

PHOENIX (CN) — A federal judge Tuesday gave the Havasupai, the only tribe that lives in the Grand Canyon, 90 days to persuade the federal government to join its lawsuit against a city, a water company and others that pump groundwater from the Coconino Plateau.

The Havasupai have lived along Havasu Creek since “time immemorial,” they say in their lawsuit against Anasazi Water Co., the City of Williams and other well owners. The waters of their land, which rise from the Redwall-Muav aquifer, 3,000 feet below the Coconino Plateau, are so central to their way of life that the tribe’s name for itself is Havasuw ‘Baaja, the People of the Blue-Green Waters.

But the water supply is threatened by a proliferation of wells on the Coconino Plateau that draw from the aquifer that is the source of the seeps and springs on the Havasupai reservation and of Havasu Creek itself.

“Uranium mines, theme parks, tourist stops, resorts, commercial enterprises, private developments, ranches, municipalities, and others have been drilling wells into this aquifer to support their ever-growing demands for water,” the tribe said in its complaint.

The Havasupai seek an injunction against withdrawal of groundwater from the Coconino Plateau and a declaration that “the tribe has aboriginal and federally reserved water rights in the full flow of Havasu Creek and the springs, seeps, and streams on its reservation and traditional use lands.”

But U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled Tuesday that because the tribe’s reservation and traditional use lands were granted by act of Congress, the groundwater dispute cannot be resolved without the federal government’s involvement.

“The United States holds the Havasupai’s reservation lands and the rights appurtenant thereto, in trust on behalf of the tribe,” Snow wrote. “Therefore it has a legal interest in this litigation based on its obligation as the legal owner of the rights asserted by the tribe.”

Snow gave the tribe 90 days to amend their complaint with the United States as an intervenor, otherwise he will dismiss it.

The Havasupai are represented by Richard Hughes and Reed Bienvenu with of Rothstein Donatelli in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Margaret Vick of Tempe, Arizona. A spokesman for the tribe did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.