ID sues to halt #ColoradoRiver #drought plan signed by @POTUS, says officials ignored #SaltonSea — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #DCP #COriver #aridification

Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a thorough environmental analysis has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without (us) was that the (drought plan) couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” Henry Martinez, IID general manager, said in a statement. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along — at the Salton Sea.”

Martinez said in an interview that the district also had to act because of the continuing threat of possible mandatory water cuts, especially to farm districts like IID, if Metropolitan and others can’t meet their obligations. MWD committed to keep 2 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs under the plan, and its general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, has said his staff concluded this year’s healthy precipitation meant they could do it.

But Martinez said that was a short-term fix. “When you go through a drastic drought, you have to keep cutting back and cutting back. It is our opinion that Met cannot supply all of the water … that would be required,” he said. If mandatory cuts were ordered, “politically, urban water users are the heavyweights at the end of the day. … Humans will beat out plants.”

IID’s petition alleges that MWD wrongly committed to enter into agreements on behalf of itself and all other California contractors.

In a statement, Kightlinger said, “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

[…]

IID was cut out of the drought plan after MWD stepped in and said it would contribute its rural neighbor’s required share of water in drought years. The districts had previously signed contracts technically making the swap possible.

In his statement, MWD general manager Kightlinger said, “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved — the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea.”

Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed a joint letter to Congress requesting the drought plans be approved on March 19, without IID. The legislation passed rapidly and overwhelmingly, and was signed into law by Trump on Tuesday. Mexico will also be a party per a previous agreement. State representatives now need to finalize their approvals.

The ripples of IID’s lawsuit were felt in the Arizona legislature on Wednesday, where top water officials gave an update on the drought plan to the Senate Committee on Water and Agriculture. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke testified that although the potential impact of the lawsuit was unknown, he doesn’t see it affecting much. He is encouraging more dialogue to bring IID back into the deal.

“They’re choosing right now to go down this path, but from my perspective, this will not prohibit us in moving forward and signing the Drought Contingency plan,” he said.

Buschatzke said the focus is on implementing the Drought Contingency Plan as is. If MWD doesn’t sign as a result of the litigation, others will “assess where we’re at” then.

IID’s Martinez said that the timing of the lawsuit the same day as Trump signed the legislation was coincidental. The district was up against a deadline to act once Metropolitan’s board voted to approve taking on IID’s share of water, he said.

Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (ebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on Imperial Irrigation District’s legal challenge alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

“During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved – the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea. Moving forward, we remain committed to working with our partners on the Colorado River and with the federal government to secure funding and lasting solutions to the challenges of the Salton Sea.

“The Drought Contingency Plan will help stabilize Colorado River supplies for seven states and Mexico for the next eight years while we find lasting solutions in the basin that ensure the people, crops and ecosystems that rely on the river have a reliable water supply for generations.

“We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

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