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Multi-State Colorado River Drought Plan Faces Legal Challenge

Waterfowl rest in the placid waters of the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Waterfowl rest in the placid waters of the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.

UPDATE: 11:30 a.m., April 17, 2019

The Imperial Irrigation District is suing to put a hold on the multi-state drought plan for the Colorado River.

That deal outlines water cutbacks for the seven Colorado River basin states if the level of Lake Mead drops too low.

IID is asking a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge to suspend the deal until there has been an environmental analysis of cutbacks on the Salton Sea.

The seven state drought plan was adopted without IID’s participation even though the water agency has rights to 21% of the river’s water.

President Donald Trump signed the congressionally approved deal on Tuesday.

Read original story below:

A sweeping deal to plan for drought in the Colorado River Basin may yet include the river’s largest water user.

The Imperial Irrigation District was frozen out of the multi-state deal when Los Angeles water managers offered to provide water cutbacks if Lake Mead continues to lose water. However, the Southern California water district still hopes to join the federal drought contingency plan.

“Obviously the health of the Colorado River is very important to us. We don’t want that system to crash. It’s our only water supply,” said Tina Shields, Imperial Irrigation district water manager.

Federal funding for Salton Sea management is one key remaining obstacle. Without those federal dollars, Imperial Valley officials were unwilling to sign on to the deal.

RELATED: Project Takes Aim At Controlling Salton Sea Dust

District officials remain disappointed the IID’s bid to secure federal money for the Salton Sea meant they got closed out of the drought deal.

“Not only can you not do a basin-wide drought contingency plan without 21 percent of the river, you certainly can’t advocate for a smaller but sustainable sea and only talk about the smaller part, not the sustainable part,” Shields said.

Shields indicated the district is working with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to secure federal funding from the recently signed U.S. Farm Bill.

RELATED: Change At The Salton Sea Is Affecting Bird Populations

Restoration money could become available if the bill is changed to allow states to apply for it. Right now only individuals can do that. Meanwhile, California is moving forward with plans to create wetland habitat on 4,000 acres of exposed lakebed near the New River.

The plan would control dust on the recently exposed lakebed, but that project won’t be complete until 2023.

Imperial County water managers may still join the Colorado River drought contingency plan recently approved by Congress.

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