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Colo. Water Agreement Announced

December 15, 2000

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ An agreement to transfer water from farms in the Southern California desert to residential users in San Diego has been reached under a landmark Colorado River water management plan, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Thursday.

The agreement, which allows for a more equitable sharing of Colorado River water, is part of an effort to make sure California reduces its water consumption over the next 15 years.

``I’m confident that California is committed and it’s got its act together,″ Babbitt said.

The agreement among the Imperial Irrigation District, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was finalized late Wednesday, he said.

It resolves a more than 65-year dispute, Babbitt said, and allows the transfer to San Diego of at least 200,000 acre-feet of water from the irrigation district that serves the primarily agricultural Imperial and Coachella valleys.

An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve the needs of an average family of five for a year.

The plan allows surplus water from Lake Mead, about 30 miles west of Las Vegas, to be used to meet California’s needs while the state attempts to wean itself from its reliance on the Colorado River. The water level would be lowered by as much as 19 feet.

For decades, California has drawn more water than the other six states along the river.

The plan gives equal access to river water among the rapidly growing states of Arizona, Nevada and Calfornia, said Bob Walsh, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river.

Under the old rules, California received 50 percent of any surplus, Arizona 46 percent, and Nevada 4 percent, said David Donnelly, deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The Interior Department now will decide annually which states will get the extra water, based on the size of the surplus and the needs of the states.

This year’s surplus of 630,000 acre-feet is well below last year’s 800,000 acre-feet, said Robert Johnson, Bureau of Reclamation director for the Lower Colorado Basin.

Last year California took 800,000 acre-feet of water above its official entitlement of 4.4 million acre-feet. That extra water served from 3.2 million to 4 million Californians.

Nevada gets 300,000 acre-feet of the river a year and Arizona receives 2.8 million acre-feet.

The Interior Department will publish a final environmental impact statement on the plan on Friday, said Jayne Harkin, river operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation in Boulder City.

Harkins said Babbitt use the environmental impact statement to make a final decision.

Babbitt is expected to sign the new rules Jan. 17.

The Colorado River provides drinking water and hydroelectric power to about 25 million people across the West.

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