Imperial Valley – What’s Plan B?

Imperial Irrigation District

Imperial Irrigation District

Tony Perry has a nice take-out in the Los Angeles Times this weekend outlining the state of play in discussions over the fate of the Quantification Settlement Agreement and the water deal contained therein between the Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego. It does a good job of highlighting the dilemma – San Diego has become dependent on the water it gets from Imperial, and Imperial has become dependent on the money it gets from San Diego. But the whole thing’s in serious jeopardy in the California courts. Which is where Albuquerque water lawyer Chuck DuMars comes in:

To look for its own Plan B in the event the water deal dies, the Imperial board has hired one of the nation’s top water lawyers, Charles DuMars, a professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico law school.

Even by the standards of other Western water cases, DuMars said, the dispute over the Imperial district’s share of the Colorado River is complex in its details and intense in its passions.

Imperial Valley’s share of the river — greater than that of any other agency or state that uses the river — comes from a principle in water law called “first in time, first in right.”

Farmers in the valley were pulling water from the Colorado in the early 1900s — long before the rise of modern Los Angeles and San Diego and the thirsty suburbs in between.

“It’s more than just water, it’s cultural,” DuMars said of the dispute. “To most people in Southern California, water is something that comes out of the tap. In the Imperial Valley, it’s the lifeblood of the people.”

It’s not clear yet what Plan B might look like. A set of “organizing principles” approved by the IID board back in August makes clear that any modified water transfer plan will have to look out for the existing economic base in the valley:

In its role as a careful steward and in deference to its fiduciary responsibility as trustee of the Imperial Valley’s water rights, IID will ensure that the net result of any water transfer agreement to which it is a party does more than make the region whole: It must also make it better.

How that will be done remains to be seen.