California Water Department Resolves Colorado River Conflict


Two major California water departments have settled a lawsuit threatening to upset a multilateral agreement to protect a river that serves millions of people in the western United States during a drought.

The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single recipient of Colorado River water, has sued the Metropolitan Water District twice in the last two years. Authorities announced on Monday that they had reached a settlement to resolve both proceedings.

Under the agreement, Imperial will be able to store water on Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border with a Metropolitan account. Imperial will provide water under a local drought emergency response plan if California is asked to help stop further water outages.

Imperial spokesman Antonio Ortega said he hopes that partners in the California and Colorado River basins will see the opportunity to work together. The river serves 40 million people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico.

“But also make sure that the environmental issues we face every day here in Salton Sea are part of the debate to make sure they are being addressed and that IID concerns are not ignored. To do, “he said.

Imperial sued Metropolitan for violating state environmental law when the Water Services Department serving Los Angeles evaded Imperial in drought emergency negotiations. 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 violating a contract related to the Colorado River’s water storage on Lake Mead. Metropolitan denied the claim. The trial was scheduled for April 2022.

According to court documents, these cases were controversial in an agreement signed last week that also outlined regular consultations between agencies to respond to the drought. Metropolitan said it would support Imperial’s efforts to restore the Salton Sea and secure more funding for the giant Lake Briney in the southeast of Los Angeles.

Bill Hersen Camp, Metropolitan’s Colorado River Resources Manager, said Monday that Imperial’s ability to store water under sub-accounts would provide more flexibility in recovering water. But that capability would be less than what Imperial would receive under a drought emergency response plan, and Imperial’s voluntary contribution would not be so high, he said.

He said the agreement marks the end of the court battle and a return to cooperation. Already, western water users are discussing an existing set of guidelines for the Colorado River and an alternative to a duplicate drought emergency response plan that expires in 2026.

Imperial has rights to more than one-third of the water allocated to the Down River basin and the three provinces of Mexico.

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

Seven western states have finalized a drought plan in 2019 to ensure that the water levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, upstream of the Arizona-Utah border, do not drop significantly. Nevertheless, the US Pioneer Department has declared the first shortage of water supply in 2022 affecting Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

The Imperial Irrigation District was essentially written out of part of California’s drought program when Metropolitan promised to contribute to most of the state’s voluntary reductions to avoid delays in the implementation of the plan. Imperial assistance relied on securing $ 200 million in federal funding to address the environmental and health hazards of the Salton Sea, but did not receive it.

After the Colorado River broke through the embankment and flooded the basin, the inland sea formed in 1905 shrank, exposing microscopic wind-blown dust to the bottom of the lake, resulting in poor air quality and asthma. It is the cause.

California has budgeted an additional $ 40 million for restoration work on the Salton Sea, but that’s not enough, Ortega said.

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