The California Water Department has Settled a Dispute Over the Colorado River

A lawsuit threatening to derail a multilateral deal to safeguard a river that serves millions of people in the western United States during a drought has been settled by two major California water authorities.

California water agencies resolve Colorado River dispute

In the previous two years, the Imperial Irrigation District, which receives the most Colorado River water, has sued the Metropolitan Water District twice. On Monday, authorities announced that they had reached an agreement to end both proceedings.


Imperial will be able to use a Metropolitan account to store water on Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border. If California is called to help stop further water shortages, Imperial will provide water under a local drought emergency response plan.


Antonio Ortega, an Imperial spokesman, expressed hope that partners in the California and Colorado River basins will see the chance to collaborate. In Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico, the river serves 40 million people. When the Water Services Department servicing Los Angeles eluded Imperial in drought emergency negotiations, Imperial sued Metropolitan for breaking state environmental law. Imperial had appealed to the California Court of Appeals earlier this year, but the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled against it.


In a lawsuit filed in 2020, Metropolitan was accused of breaking a contract relating to the Colorado River’s water storage in Lake Mead. The claim was denied by Metropolitan. The trial was set to begin in April 2022.


These cases were controversial, according to court documents, in a deal agreed last week that also specified frequent talks between agencies in response to the drought. Metropolitan said it will back Imperial in its efforts to restore the Salton Sea and increase funds for the massive Lake Briney in Los Angeles’ southeast.


Imperial’s capacity to hold water under sub-accounts, according to Bill Hersen Camp, Metropolitan’s Colorado River Resources Manager, would allow more flexibility in recovering water. However, Imperial’s capability would be less than what it would get under a drought emergency response plan, and Imperial’s voluntary contribution would be lower, he said.


According to him, the deal represents the conclusion of the legal war and the beginning of a new period of cooperation. Western water users are already debating an existing set of standards for the Colorado River, as well as a replacement for a duplicate drought emergency response plan that is slated to expire in 2026. Imperial owns more than a third of the water given to the Down River basin and Mexico’s three provinces.


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