As is only fitting for Colorado River drought planning, a ginormous deal has been agreed upon even as its biggest user water, the Imperial Irrigation District in California was ignored. What’s that you say, how can an agricultural water user in California be entitled so much Colorado River water, and why were they ignored? Well, welcome to the convoluted politics of the “Law of the River” which governs who gets what Colorado River water.
The IID uses about 20% of all Colorado River water because its water rights are so ancient that they outrank all other users. Farms and ranches in the area have been dumping agricultural waste into the Salton Sea for decades because, hey, it’s a fine place for toxic runoff. Except it’s not. The Salton Sea is a large salt water inland lake and it’s in perilous shape. It routinely has huge fish kills and if it keeps degenerating then it could dry up. That would mean toxic dust would then blow all over southern California.
So, the IID decided to stonewall saying they wouldn’t agree to a Colorado River contingency plan that impacts 40 million people in multiple states unless someone came up with $200 million to fix the Salton Sea. In other words, after decades of reckless behavior, they banged their rattle on the high chair and demanded someone else clean up their mess. Their bluff didn’t work. The enormous Metropolitan Water District of southern California intervened, said they’d contribute to voluntary water cuts. The deal was agreed upon, and IID can go suck their agricultural fumes.
Am I being harsh on IID? Yes. However they absolutely have a point. Something needs to be done to save the Salton Sea and they don’t have the cash to do it.
The Imperial Irrigation District was written out of California’s plan when another powerful water agency, the Metropolitan Water District, pledged to contribute most of the state’s voluntary water cuts.
Imperial had said it would not commit to the drought plan unless it secured $200 million in federal funding to help restore a massive, briny lake southeast of Los Angeles known as the Salton Sea. The district also accused others in the Colorado River basin of reneging on a promise to cross the finish line together.
“IID has one agenda, to be part of a DCP that treats the Salton Sea with the dignity and due consideration it deserves, not as its first casualty,” Imperial board President Erik Ortega said.