Judge voids landmark California water agreement
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A judge invalidated a landmark pact Thursday intended to curtail Southern California’s overuse of water from the Colorado River but left the deal in place during an appeals period.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald Candee ruled that many of the contracts enacted as part of the 2003 agreement were invalid because they involved an improper effort by the state to pay much of the cost of saving the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Candee, however, allowed water shipments to continue for 30 days after he formally enters his judgment.
The ruling, if upheld during expected appeals, could unravel a deal that ended years of bickering over how to divide Colorado River water between California and six western states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Malissa McKeith, who represents opponents of the deal, said the judge’s ruling would benefit the environment and return tax money that was unfairly seized form state coffers for Salton Sea restoration.
“Today’s ruling gives the state and local agencies a new chance to make things right,” she said.
Kevin Kelley, spokesman for the Imperial Irrigation District, said an appeal was planned, among other actions.
The pact allowed more than 30 million acre-feet of water – enough to cover the state of Pennsylvania a foot deep – to move from farms to cities in Southern California over a 75-year period.
The agreement was reflected in a series of contracts between the Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies water to Imperial Valley farms, and water districts in Los Angeles, San Diego and other jurisdictions.
Candee’s ruling came in response to a so-called validation lawsuit filed in 2003 by the Imperial water agency that sought the court’s blessing of the deal in anticipation of challenges by farmers and landowners who lost water.
Opponents used the litigation to challenge the state’s commitment to pay for restoring the Salton Sea, which is fed by Colorado River irrigation channels. One estimate in court documents had the state paying some $60 million toward the restoration.
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