U.S. Water News Online
SAN DIEGO -- U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has signed
a pact that ends years of bickering over the Colorado River and
fulfills a promise that California made 70 years ago to limit its use
of the river it shares with six other states.
The agreement, which was signed on the Hoover Dam, secures the
water future for fast-growing Southern California through the
nation's biggest transfer of water from farms to cities.
More than 30 million acre-feet of water, more than enough to fill
Lake Mead, the nation's largest man-made lake, will move from farms
to cities over the 75-year life of the deal.
Much of that water is coming to San Diego. The Imperial Valley,
the state's biggest user of Colorado River water, will sell as much
as 90 billion gallons worth each year to San Diego -- roughly a third
of the city's future water needs.
Norton said the ``monumental'' deal is a roadmap for future water
trades in the West, which will face increasing demand for scarce
resources in years to come.
``This puts in place the basic building block of future agreements
to meet water needs,'' Norton said.
Approval of the long-awaited deal also restores California's
privileges to draw additional Colorado water for 15 years. The
Interior Department revoked those privileges when California missed a
Dec. 31 deadline to reach a deal. With the deal approved, Nevada will
be allowed to draw water for fast-growing Las Vegas.
California is also committing itself to reduce its over-reliance
on the Colorado River so other Western states can claim their full
shares. The state promised to live within limits made when the Hoover
Dam was built during the Great Depression. Over the years, however,
the state has come to rely on excess water from the river as a major
source of supply for Southern California.
``We're following through with the promises that were made 70
years ago,'' Norton said. ``Had we not resolved it now it could have
been a serious obstacle to meeting the water needs throughout the
Colorado River system for the long-term future.''
Four Southern California water agencies, who have spent years
squabbling over the deal, signed the deal with little fanfare.
Norton's signature was the final authorization needed to implement
Norton acknowledged that the deal did not come easily. Imperial
Valley, which rejected the deal in December, approved it earlier this
month under enormous pressure from the federal government. The
Interior Department had found the region's farmers were wasting
Colorado River water and threatened to take away.
``Whenever you're doing something that is unique it takes a lot of
time and a lot of effort,'' she said. ``The complex issues made it
perhaps more difficult than future arrangements might be.''
It was a pair of Texas oil barons who started the state on a path
that led to the signing ceremony on the Hoover Dam. In the early
1990s, Lee and Edward Bass bought up Imperial Valley farms and tried
to sell to San Diego the water rights that came with the land.
That plan fell apart, but San Diego liked the idea of a supply of
water that would free it from its near total dependence on the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles. In
1997, San Diego and Imperial struck a deal.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt entered the picture the next year
and made the water sale part of the department's goal of curbing
California's overdependence on the Colorado.
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