From the Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):
The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the eleventh hour.
IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan from proceeding, and its board president called the latest development a violation of California environmental law.
But Metropolitan Water District of Southern California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger disagreed, and said Tuesday that attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and others in a working group are finalizing new documents to remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
“The agreement will be rewritten so IID is not referenced at all, and the net effect of that is Met takes on the risk of potentially contributing 250,000 acre-feet that IID might have,” Kightlinger said.
The new deal, without IID, could enable seven states to meet a March 18 deadline set by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to submit a joint request to Congress to authorize the domestic plans and an international one with Mexico. IID has so far refused to sign onto the plan, saying they want a pledge of $200 million in federal funds to restore the also badly eroding Salton Sea.
From The Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels.
With California signed on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the multi-state agreement before it takes effect.
The MWD board took the step over the objections of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
The sprawling Imperial Valley agricultural district has refused to sign the drought plan until the federal government provides $200 million for restoration of the Salton Sea, and its intransigence has forced California to miss federal deadlines for joining the pact…
MWD executives have said it is vital that the drought plan go into effect as soon as possible to prevent Lake Mead from dropping to levels that jeopardize Hoover Dam’s hydropower production and, eventually, water releases. They worry that if a shortage is declared, the agency would lose access to its substantial Lake Mead reserves.
Under the drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would be the first to reduce their withdrawals from Lake Mead. If the huge reservoir drops farther, California would cut back, spreading its reductions across the MWD, Imperial and other agencies that use the river.
With no federal funding for the Salton Sea on the immediate horizon, MWD leaders said they would assume responsibility for Imperial’s share of the cuts to push California across the finish line.
Imperial protested and raised the threat of legal action in a letter it sent to the board on Monday.
Noting that the MWD’s river rights are junior to Imperial’s, Imperial General Manager Henry Martinez argued that the move amounted to a major change that should trigger an environmental review.
“It is an unbelievable assumption … that only one minor modification will be needed for a lower priority water rights holder to sign multiple agreements on behalf of a senior priority water rights holder,” Martinez wrote. “By changing — in a way that the public cannot readily understand or see — the project description … at the last moment, MWD has violated both the letter and spirit” of California’s Environmental Quality Act.
Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger told the board Tuesday that agency attorneys had reviewed Imperial’s letter and said no environmental review was necessary. Without any discussion, the board then unanimously approved a motion to finalize California’s part of the shortage deal.
“However well-meaning MWD’s action is intended, it is simply unworkable and unacceptable to take the IID and the Salton Sea out of the [drought plan] equation,” Imperial board President Erik Ortega said in a statement after the vote…
In a Saturday letter to the Colorado River Board of California, the six other river states urged California to immediately approve the shortage plan. All six have agreed to it, although Arizona is still completing its documentation. According to Kightlinger, reclamation bureau attorneys said the MWD could sign for California.
Imperial leaders have said they intend to join the pact but won’t ink the final documents until the federal government commits to funding Salton Sea restoration…
If Imperial later signs the shortage documents, the MWD says it would be relieved of picking up Imperial’s share of the cuts.
From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):
As promised, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman on Friday wrote a letter of support to the Imperial Irrigation District, backing efforts to win substantial Farm Bill funds to restore the dwindling Salton Sea.
But she stopped short of linking a pledge of funds to the seven-state Colorado River drought package that she is pushing to complete in two weeks. Instead, she said adopting the drought plan was the single biggest step to both preserving drinking water across the West and to preserving the Salton Sea.
“We recognize the urgency of taking action to protect the Salton Sea given the current and anticipated decline in its elevation,” Burman wrote. “We stand ready to support the efforts of our USDA colleagues as they work to implement the new provisions” of the Farm Bill. that could aid the Salton Sea.
But Burman politely implored the rural water district to first sign on to the drought plan to shore up Lake Mead reservoir.
“Actions are (also) needed immediately to address the risk of Lake Mead declining to low elevations,” she wrote. “We simply must work together as partners …to avoid such a deviating scenario.”