Imperial Irrigation District Alleges Metropolitan Water District Violated CEQA Principles

By on April 24, 2019

The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) is now being formally challenged by the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) in a petition filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California.

The IID petition Writ of Mandate alleges that MWD violated CEQA principles by committing to enter into agreements, on behalf of itself and all other California contractors, which requires MWD to forgo diverting up to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River without considering how it will make up the shortfall. The petition calls on the court to suspend approvals and actions related to the Lower Basin DCP until such time that an appropriate CEQA analysis and process has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without IID was that the DCP couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” said Henry Martinez, IID general manager. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along – at the Salton Sea.”

Although IID worked to be a partner in the DCP process, it objected to the lack of federal funding commitments for the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan and the environmental issues at the Salton Sea. The CEQA statute requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. IID contend that MWD’s obligation to the river, under this DCP, could be over 2 million acre-feet.

IID maintains that the Salton Sea is an integral part of the Colorado River system and its decline presents a severe public health and environmental crisis for the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the state. The dry lakebed is subject to the desert’s fierce winds which blow hazardous dust particles into the air contributing to disproportionately high rates of childhood asthma in the region.

Without IID’s participation, the Bureau of Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed the DCP on March 19; President Donald Trump signed the DCP into law last week. IID’s lawsuit states that, “Metropolitan engaged in a prejudicial abuse of discretion and failed to proceed in the manner required by law,” wrongly determining that the DCP approvals were exempt from environmental laws.

“As long as IID was part of the DCP, the Salton Sea would have been insulated from impacts because IID could have protected it,” said IID board president Erik Ortega. “But under this DCP, particularly now that MWD is calling the shots for California and acting on behalf of the rest of the Colorado River, the Salton Sea is truly on its own. That’s why IID is acting to preserve its rights – and the Salton Sea’s future – by filing this CEQA challenge.”