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Environmental Law

Judge OKs big sale of water from farmers to San Diego County

Posted Aug 2, 2013 4:07 PM CDT
By Terry Carter

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A Sacramento Superior Court judge has OK’d what is said to be the nation’s largest ever sale of water from farms to cities, granting the wish of farmers from California's Imperial Valley to sell some of their allotment of the Colorado River’s flow to increasingly thirsty San Diego County, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Judge Lloyd Connelly this week affirmed his tentative ruling from June upholding the deal between the Imperial Valley Irrigation District—which controls the lion’s share of the state’s allotment from the Colorado River—and San Diego. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors, the county’s Air Pollution District, environmentalists and others had battled the deal, which stemmed from an agreement struck in 2003, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported when the case was argued last fall.

San Diego has been eager to get a more reliable water source and to be independent of the Los Angeles-based wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The Imperial Irrigation District, covering a huge agricultural area, controls 75 percent of the state’s legal rights to the Colorado River; Metropolitan gets most of the rest, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court, considering battles between states over common water sources, side with Oklahoma in a suit brought by Texas, which was seeking to divert 150 billion gallons of water annually from Oklahoma river basins to quench North Texas’ thirst, the Star-Telegram reported at the time.

While Oklahoma had the Red River Compact with Texas and two other states (Arkansas and Louisiana) in 1980, giving “equitable apportionment of water” from that river and its tributaries to the four states , Oklahoma and Texas), Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for a unanimous court (PDF) that the Texas water district’s reading of the compact assumes that Oklahoma and the other states “silently surrendered substantial control over the water within their borders.”

Sotomayor cited an earlier Supreme Court decision that found that states possess “an absolute right to all their navigable waters.”

Judge Connelly’s ruling on Imperial Valley’s sale of water to San Diego—an intrastate matter—could be appealed.

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