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6 Western States Oppose Water Deal

In a letter to Davis, representatives express concern about the 75-year pact's exit clauses and ongoing court battles. Their approval is crucial to California.

August 07, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Six Western states that share the Colorado River with California have told Gov. Gray Davis that they would not accept the latest version of a landmark deal aimed at weaning the nation's most populous state from its overreliance on the river.

Representatives of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming signed a letter Tuesday to Davis outlining their problems with the complex deal under consideration by four Southern California water agencies.

Approval by the six states is crucial to California's hopes of reaching the long-awaited Colorado River-sharing deal sought by the U.S. Interior Department.

The six states found that the 75-year deal, the Quantification Settlement Agreement, has exit clauses "that will undermine its permanence or viability."

The deal also should not be subject to "endless litigation," such as the ongoing court battle between the Interior Department and the water board in the Imperial Valley, the state's biggest user of Colorado River water, the letter said. The water board is fighting the Interior Department's attempts to cut its massive water supply.

A spokesman for the governor, whose aides helped broker a revised deal among the four water agencies in March, welcomed the letter and said it was simply a matter of "clarification."

"We are definitely working to address the issues they identified," said the spokesman, Byron Tucker. "Overall, we view this as a positive step. Now that we have their issues in writing, we feel we'll be able to avoid potential roadblocks in the future."

The letter's author, Herbert R. Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, could not be reached for comment.

The four Southern California agencies met Wednesday in Sacramento with aides to the governor and Bennett Raley, the assistant Interior secretary responsible for Western water issues.

In a telephone interview, Raley said the six states must be satisfied before approval of the deal among four Southern California water agencies that involves a massive water transfer from Imperial Valley farmers to San Diego.

The deal is also California's ticket to getting back river water that it lost this year.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton cut the amount of water California can draw from the river this year by 15% as punishment for the state's failure to reach an agreement by Dec. 31. The state will be able to draw the surplus water for 15 years when a deal is approved.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Los Angeles-based water wholesaler serving 17 million people, has held up the deal and has echoed the problems the six states cited with the agreement, including the exit clauses and the uncertain sources of state funding.

"We've had other concerns that continue to be ignored, such as the dramatic drought in the Colorado River basin," said Adan Ortega, a spokesman for the agency.

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