From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Mark Olalde):
On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court declined [Michael] Abatti’s petition for review, leaving in place an appellate court’s decision that declared IID the rightful owner of a massive allotment of Colorado River water.
The legal tussle centered on the question of whether Imperial Valley farmers owned a constitutionally protected water right or were merely guaranteed water service by IID. The case’s outcome had the potential to shift the valley’s power dynamic to several families who own large agricultural interests in this rural slice of California, including Abatti’s.
The largest single user of Colorado River water, IID has a 3.1 million acre-foot yearly entitlement to the resource, although some of that is sold to other Southern California water districts under a 2003 agreement. IID serves a swathe of desert from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Salton Sea, and delivers nearly all its water to farm fields that cover roughly half-a-million acres…
Abatti’s legal team fought IID through multiple layers of state court, first winning at the trial level before seeing that ruling overturned by the appellate court, which then denied a request for a new hearing.
Abatti’s lawyers petitioned the state’s top court to take up the case, writing that the appellate court’s opinion “will have adverse consequences on water planning, water markets, and agricultural water conservation programs statewide, because they rely upon irrigating landowners possessing definable rights to water on their lands that may be transferred, sold, or credited.”
Unless farmers were granted the water rights they were promised at the trial court level, Abatti’s lawyers argued, irrigators would find it difficult to participate in potential statewide water markets and plans.
IID disagreed, claiming that, as long as the district fairly distributed water to all users, the rights remained with the district…
The case is now closed and has no additional recourse at the state level.
Throughout the winding legal process, Abatti was victorious in his attempt to get the Equitable Distribution Plan — IID’s roadmap for decreasing how much water its users receive in times of drought — thrown out by the trial court and again at the appellate level. IID repealed its plan in response…
Now, most of Abatti’s claims are settled. The main outstanding question is that of legal fees, and IID recently asked for a different judge to decide that point, citing a Desert Sun investigation that found ties between Abatti and the trial judge.