Imperial Irrigation District fights Abatti contempt complaint

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The Imperial Irrigation District was found not guilty of a contempt of court complaint filed against him by farmer Michael Abatti in his controversial fight over water rights in the Imperial Valley.

Abatti alleged that IID failed to prioritize agricultural users when it struck an amended deal in November to supply water to Heber Geothermal Co., which has been operating in the Imperial Valley since the 1980s. Imperial County Superior Court Judge L. Brooks Anderholt sided with the Irrigation District, which argued that it delivered water fairly to all of its users and could continue to do so even s ‘he was facing water cuts.

“The tribunal considered various scenarios and found that an equal reduction in all cases in times of scarcity was a possibility, as was subjecting water supply contracts to proportional reductions,” Anderholt wrote in his decision signed on February 7.

The IID applauded the ruling in a statement, with council attorney general Frank Oswalt calling it a “measured decision that preserves the jurisdiction of the tribunal, but allows this public body and its elected council to continue to respond. to the needs of all of its water users. “

Norma Sierra Galindo, Chair of the IID Board of Trustees, said: “This contempt motion has cast doubt on any industrial use of water, and I think with his order… Judge Anderholt helped to remove this doubt.

The move came after Anderholt heard arguments in El Centro on February 4 and tried, with lawyers for both sides, to work through complex hypotheses to determine who would receive water during years of drought.

“How the IID chooses to deliver water to customers is not the purview of the micromanagement court, and it is certainly not Mr. Abatti’s,” said his attorney, Lee Hejmanowski. But, he argued, IID’s contract with Heber, which operates a geothermal power plant in Imperial County, has inherently prioritized not Abatti and other farmers, but industrial users.

But Anderholt wrote that he was convinced that the IID and its contract with Heber would remain within the bounds of previous decisions because “the members of the IID board are elected and have taken an oath which obliges them to abide by the law”.

Norma Sierra Galindo is the President of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors.

With the decision in hand, IID plans to move forward with its contract with Heber, which increases the maximum amount of water that can be delivered by 500 acre-feet per year.

Parties can also return their attention to the main question of the Abatti dispute: Who owns the water from the Colorado River in the Imperial Valley, where agricultural customers are by far the largest users of water?

In 2017, Anderholt invalidated the 2013 IID Fair Distribution Plan, which was created to distribute water among different users in the event that demand exceeds supply. After the decision, the council voted in 2018 to cancel the plan. IID has also appealed Anderholt’s decision, but, although the case has been fully informed, the appeals court has yet to set a date for oral argument. A decision is expected from this tribunal in the spring or early summer.

In the meantime, water users in the IID service area are not faced with district-imposed water rationing, or a plan that would define exactly how the essential resource would be distributed in the event of a scarcity.

“I hope this will never happen for the good of all of us. We can hope for more mountain snow and rain,” Anderholt said at the February 4 hearing.

Matt Dessert, then irrigation district board member, greets his longtime friend Mike Abatti, former IID board member and president of Coachella Energy Storage Partners, to an event celebrating the opening of the IID's battery storage system in El Centro, Calif. on October 26, 2016.

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Mark Olalde covers the environment for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @MarkOlalde.


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