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Palo Verde Irrigation District files suit against MWD alleging CEQA violations, illegal scheme
Blythe-based Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID) filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California last week alleging California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) violations. Filed in Riverside County, the lawsuit contends that CEQA laws were violated when MWD executed six farmland parcel leases, without the required Environmental Impact Report.
“Palo Verde Irrigation District has taken action to protect the agricultural lands in its service area that sustain the local economy and feed so many families throughout the world,” said Ned Hyduke, general manager at Palo Verde Irrigation District. “To recognize MWD’s scheme, one need only follow the money, which in this case is more than a quarter billion dollars to fund a land deal that closed in three weeks without any appraisal. The purchase, followed immediately by secretly negotiated farm leases, represents the most predatory water practices since MWD member agency Los Angeles Department of Water and Power drained the Owens Valley in the early 1900’s.”
PVID’s lawsuit states that the illegal scheme amounts to draconian water-use restrictions as an attempt to redirect excess Colorado River water to Southern California’s urban areas. The suit further contends that these actions would cause irreparable harm to the environment, economy and region in PVID’s service area.
In 2004, the two water agencies executed a Fallowing Agreement allowing landowners in the Palo Verde region to save water and subsequently make it available for MWD’s purchase. The agreement stipulated that no more than 29 percent of PVID land could be fallowed to protect the agricultural and environmental resources within PVID’s boundaries.
The 30-page lawsuit alleges that MWD purchased nearly 13,000 acres in 2015 and secretly negotiated leases with farmers that drastically limited agricultural water use. This violated the long-standing partnership and the Fallowing Agreement in order to bypass PVID and other senior water rights holders to maximize the amount of excess Colorado River Water that could be available for the urban regions MWD supplies. The agreement states that the land must be used to the mutual benefit of both agencies and remain compatible with agricultural operations in PVID.
PVID alleges that MWD did not disclose pertinent information to the public regarding the potential impacts of the new farm leases on the environment. The Riverside County Palo Verde district says that MWD’s actions are putting the agricultural character and environment of the PVID area at significant risk.
Water used to irrigate PVID-area land comes from the Colorado River. PVID has first priority to use this water with respect to other California water districts. Formed in 1923, the Palo Verde Irrigation District region includes more than 189 square miles in Riverside and Imperial counties.
PVID’s lawsuit indicates that MWD used $264 million in public funds to purchase the Palo Verde-area land, without a formal appraisal, which the irrigation district says is more than twice the estimated market value at the time. This action constitutes an illegal gift of public funds of more than $125 million and violated California’s Constitution and MWD’s own Administrative Code.