U.S. Water News Online
SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge put on hold a Bush
administration plan to divert water from farmers in the state's
poorest county to urban areas of Southern California.
The preliminary injunction restores Imperial County's full
allotment of Colorado River water, roughly 70 percent of the amount
the state can draw from the river this year. Other areas will have to
make do with less.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton cut the desert farm region's water
supply by 10 percent after California failed to reach a Dec. 31
deadline to sign a deal aimed at weaning the state from its historic
overuse of the Colorado, a resource it shares with six other states.
She also dictated who in Southern California would get how much of
the state's remaining Colorado River supply.
But U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ruled that Norton failed to
follow procedure and breached water contracts dating to the Great
Depression when she redistributed Imperial's supply.
Imperial farmers and politicians cheered the judge's decision.
``I'm one happy farmer,'' said John Pierre Menvielle, who grows
grass, wheat and other crops in Calexico, near the U.S.-Mexico
border. ``This is an enormous relief.''
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California now stands
to lose at least 66,000 acre feet of river water this year, enough
for more than 132,000 homes, spokesman Adan Ortega said. He added
that the agency has sufficient supplies to make up the difference.
Coachella Valley, a desert region near Palm Springs, stands to
lose 140,000 acre feet of water, enough for 280,000 households. An
agency spokesman said it was too soon to gauge the impact.
For years, California has been allowed to use more than its share
of Colorado River water because six other Western states that share
the Colorado didn't use their full allotments. But rapid growth in
the other states and a severe drought prompted the Interior
Department to crack down.
Government attorneys argued during the hearing that Norton acted
within her power as the congressionally designated master of the
lower Colorado River. They also argued that inefficient Imperial
farmers are wasting water.
The judge did not address that issue.
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