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Judge OKs huge water deal between farmers, San Diego County cities

June 04, 2013|By Tony Perry

A California judge Tuesday upheld the sale of water from the farmers of the Imperial Valley to the thirsty cities in San Diego County -- the largest farms-to-cities water deal in the nation.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly disagreed with litigants, including the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, who said the deal between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego County Water Authority violated the state’s environmental rules, particularly involving the Salton Sea.

San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton called the ruling a “landmark victory in San Diego’s historic quest for a more reliable water supply.”

San Diego County, blessed by nature with mild weather and a gorgeous landscape, is virtually devoid of groundwater. For half a century San Diego officials have hunted for a way to get an “independent” supply of water and decrease the county’s dependence on the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The deal was signed in 2003 after years of pressure on the Imperial Irrigation District by the federal government.

Straddling Imperial and Riverside counties, the Salton Sea is dependent on agricultural runoff for replenishment.

Imperial County enjoys the largest allocation of any agency in the seven states that depend on the Colorado River. Farmers were braving the valley’s boiling summer temperatures a century ago to pull water from the river, long before California coastal cities saw the river as a source of water.

The sale of water has continued during the years of legal wrangling. This year, the sale will involve 180,000 acre-feet of water a year, enough for 360,000 families.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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