Judge affirms deal to bring Imperial Valley water to San Diego County

A farm worker in the Imperial Valley adjusts sprinkler heads spraying water that comes from the Colorado River. A water deal between Imperial Valley and the cities of San Diego County has been approved by a judge.
(David McNew / Getty Images)

A judge has approved a complex water deal between the farmers of the Imperial Valley and the cities of San Diego County -- hailed as the largest sale of water from farms to cities in the nation.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly on Wednesday affirmed his tentative ruling from June, which upheld the 2003 deal between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego County Water Authority.

The deal has never stopped being controversial in the Imperial Valley and has been attacked in court by the county Board of Supervisors, environmentalists and some farmers.


But Connelly rejected all arguments against the deal, including that it could damage the Salton Sea, which depends on agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley.

Although the judge’s ruling could be appealed, San Diego County water officials hailed it as a protection for their county’s $188-billion-a-year economy.

“This historic pact continues to benefit all the parties involved,” said Thomas Wornham, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors.

San Diego County is blessed with mild weather and a gorgeous landscape but is virtually devoid of groundwater.

For half a century county 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.

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. by 2021, the sale will reach 280,000 acre-feet.


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