California water agencies resolve Colorado River dispute - Albuquerque Journal

California water agencies resolve Colorado River dispute

Two major California water agencies have settled a lawsuit that once threatened to derail a multi-state agreement to protect a river that serves millions of people in the U.S. West amid gripping drought.

The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single recipient of Colorado River water, sued the Metropolitan Water District twice in the past two years. The agencies announced Monday they have reached a settlement that resolves both lawsuits.

Under the agreement, Imperial can store water in Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border under Metropolitan’s account. Imperial will contribute water under a regional drought contingency plan if California is called on to help stave off further water cuts.

Imperial spokesman Antonio Ortega said the agency is hopeful that its partners in California and across the Colorado River basin recognize the opportunities to work together. The river serves 40 million people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico.

“But also,” he said, “to make sure those environmental challenges like the ones we face every day here at the Salton Sea will be a part of the discussion to make sure it’s being addressed, and IID’s concerns are not ignored.”

Imperial sued Metropolitan, alleging the water agency that serves Los Angeles violated a state environmental law when it sidestepped Imperial in the drought contingency talks. The Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled against Imperial, which appealed to the California Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Another complaint filed in 2020 accused Metropolitan of breaching a contract related to storing Colorado River water in Lake Mead. Metropolitan denied the allegations. A trial was scheduled for April 2022.

Those cases became moot with the agreement signed last week that also outlines regular talks between the agencies to respond to drought, according to court documents. Metropolitan said it will support Imperial’s efforts to restore the Salton Sea and to secure more funding for the massive, briny lake southeast of Los Angeles.

Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River resources manager for Metropolitan, said Monday that Imperial’s ability to store water under a sub account provides more flexibility in retrieving the water. But the capacity is less than what Imperial would have received under the drought contingency plan, and Imperial’s voluntary contributions won’t be as high either, he said.

The agreement marks the end of legal fights and a return to working together, he said. Already, water users in the West are talking about what will replace an existing set of guidelines for the Colorado River and the overlapping drought contingency plan that expire in 2026.

Imperial has rights to more than one-third of the water allocated to the three states in the river’s lower basin and Mexico.

“They have to be at the table,” Hasencamp said. “They have to be a party.”

Seven Western states finalized the drought plan in 2019 to keep the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell — upstream on the Arizona-Utah border — from dropping substantially. Still, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever shortage in water supply for 2022 that will impact Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

The Imperial Irrigation District essentially was written out of California’s part of the drought plan when Metropolitan pledged to contribute most of the state’s voluntary cuts to avoid delays in implementing the plan. Imperial’s support hinged on securing $200 million in federal funding to address environmental and health hazards at the Salton Sea, which it did not receive.

The inland sea formed in 1905 after the Colorado River breached a dike and flooded a basin has been shrinking, exposing a lakebed with microscopic wind-blown dust that contributes to poor air quality and asthma.

The state of California has budgeted an additional $40 million for restoration efforts at the Salton Sea, but it’s not enough, Ortega said.

“We need additional support, and things seem to be moving in that direction,” Ortega said. “We would hope that it would move quicker.”


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
New Mexico surpasses 5,000 COVID deaths
ABQnews Seeker
Number of deceased more than doubles ... Number of deceased more than doubles state fatalities for three wars combined
2
Widow speaks out after husband died of COVID-19
ABQnews Seeker
'I didn't want his death to ... 'I didn't want his death to be in vain'
3
'If only he'd gotten vaccinated, this wouldn't have happened'
ABQnews Seeker
Gloria Dominguez, sister of the late ... Gloria Dominguez, sister of the late Anselmo 'Sam' Gutierrez, says she'll miss the magic he made
4
'Rust' investigation reveals more details
ABQnews Seeker
Baldwin was practicing revolver cross draw ... Baldwin was practicing revolver cross draw when deadly shot was fired
5
Lujan Grisham calls for net-zero emissions by 2050
ABQnews Seeker
Governor wants climate standards defined in ... Governor wants climate standards defined in state law
6
BCSO: Inmate killed at Metropolitan Detention Center
ABQnews Seeker
  An inmate was killed during ...   An inmate was killed during a fight in a general population cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Monday evening, according to the ...
7
Homicide call-out Monday night
Albuquerque News
Albuquerque police were dispatched to the ... Albuquerque police were dispatched to the area of 13th Street and Lead Avenue about 7 p.m. Monday in reference to a call of a ...
8
Inmate killed following altercation at MDC
ABQnews Seeker
An inmate was killed following an ... An inmate was killed following an altercation just after 5:30 p.m. in the general population cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Monday, according ...
9
Police make arrests in two 2018 homicides
ABQnews Seeker
Both suspects, a male, 20, and ... Both suspects, a male, 20, and a female, 40, are in custody
10
Exhaustion in the ICU: Doctors reflect on state's nearly ...
From the newspaper
New Mexicans urged to get vaccinated, ... New Mexicans urged to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors