IID Files Appeal of a Local Court’s Decision Challenging District’s Water Rights
On Friday, the Imperial Irrigation District filed a legal brief with California’s Fourth Appellate District Court in its appeal of a local court’s decision challenging the district’s water rights.
The appeal is in response to the August 2017 decision by an Imperial County Superior Court judge against the district that invalidated IID’s method of apportioning water, known as the Equitable Distribution Plan.
That judgement also encompassed other provisions of great concern to IID, including a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the water rights held by IID and other legal errors that could jeopardize the Imperial Valley’s historic water rights and restrict the district’s ability to provide reliable water supplies to all of its customers in the future.
In its combined reply and response brief, the district argues that IID “legally acquired and owns the water rights to the Colorado River water that it diverts and delivers to the Imperial Valley,” and that those rights are held by IID “in trust for its uses and purposes” under irrigation district law.
IID was therefore, “well within” its powers when it adopted the EDP to apportion water to all its water users.
“The outcome of this case will dictate the future of the Imperial Valley’s water rights and who controls them,” said IID Board President Erik Ortega. “For the IID, this case is about many things but none more important than protecting and managing this resource for the benefit of all water users.”
The IID Board of Directors is expected to address the brief in open session during its meeting next Tuesday.
Imperial County farmers produce more than 100 different types of commodities from bamboo to artichokes, with alfalfa being one of the county’s most significant crops. Linsey Dale, executive director for the Imperial County Farm Bureau, said, “Alfalfa is grown on about 120,000 acres in Imperial County—about one quarter of our total farm acreage. It is a very important crop to the County, both for domestic use and export markets.”
Dale differentiated the alfalfa industry from others. “We are completely Roundup Ready-free. We grow non-GMO alfalfa here in Imperial county,” said Dale, “and it’s a very strong crop. We get about nine cuttings per year, which is very significant compared to most areas in the country,” she noted.
Because Imperial County is a desert environment, many wonder how farmers are able to grow so many different types of crops. “We have a very strong water supply. Our water comes from the Colorado River, which is moved by the Imperial Irrigation District, so we do not rely on rainfall to grow any of our crops. We rely 100 percent on our supply from the Colorado River,” Dale said.
“In terms of overall water usage,” Dale explained, “Imperial County agriculture uses an average of 5.6 acre-feet of water per acre every year. Dale added, “The Imperial Irrigation District holds the water in trust for use on our land. They have instituted what we call an Equitable Distribution Program, in which all of the water is allocated by acreage, so growers have a set amount of acre-feet of water to use on each acre.”
At the adjourned regular meeting yesterday, the Brawley City Council was updated on the ongoing negotiations with National Beef in Kansas City, Mo. to avert their plant closure scheduled for April 4, reported The Desert Review. This intended plan closure has had an immediate ripple effect as feeder cattle have begun to be shipped out of the Valley to other feedlots.
Mayor Don Campbell appointed Mayor Pro-Tempore George Nava and Councilman Don Wharton to the Imperial Valley Ad Hoc Committee to create and present an incentive package to National Beef.
Other members of the committee include: Imperial County Supervisors Ryan Kelley, Ray Castillo, and CEO Ralph Cordova;
Imperial Irrigation District Director President James Hanks, Director Matt Dessert, and General Manager Kevin Kelley; Cattlemen Paul Cameron and Bill Plourd; and Brawley City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore.
The City of Brawley proposed a $700,000 reduction in utility wastewater charges annually as part of the package.
“City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore was quick to gather some impact data for the committee concerning the closure,” said Wharton. “We are in a compressed time line and, putting our best foot forward, we had to achieve a figure in order to get the proposal together. It will be worked through by city staff if it is accepted. This figure was felt achievable through the data received and a reduction of our water rate from IID.”
Imperial County has offered $3 million from their Agriculture Benefits Fund to help National Beef come into compliance with the Regional Water Quality Control Board. An estimated $13.8 million investment would be required to upgrade their wastewater pretreatment system.
Imperial Irrigation District has offered a $2.1 million in annual energy rate reductions for ten years.
The Gas Company has also offered a rate reduction.
The California Governor’s Office has reached out to National Beef management.
Local feedlots are looking for ways to increase their cattle numbers. Imperial County is working with the cattle vendors to expand feedlots. National Beef has stated this is the main reason for the closure—low cattle supply.
The cattle vendors have said that they will supply National Beef with 481,523 head of cattle for 2014, 500,000 head for 2015, and a 10% increase for 2016. These figures include cattle from the Imperial Valley and approximately 150,000 cattle from other feedlots outside the Valley.
National Beef said that to operate the Brawley plant at optimum capacity they would need 650,000 head of cattle per year.
“We felt the offer of lower utility costs and some help with the wastewater issues would offset the shortfall of cattle supply and make the cost per head of cattle lower, resulting in National Beef reconsidering the closure,” said Nava.
National Beef has stuck closely to their January 31 notice of the closure to Brawley and Imperial County, citing the lack of cattle as the main justification. The closure announcement set into motion many legal requirements such as notification to labor unions.
“National Beef has asked for nothing,” said Nava. “The Ad Hoc Committee tried to capture their attention, and we put together a package that we thought would do that—doing what we could do as city and county entities. We just wanted to get them to the table.”
A smaller group within the Ad Hoc Committee presented the package to National Beef on Saturday morning. Ryan Kelley, George Nava, Paul Cameron, and Bill Plourd met with National Beef General Manager Brian Webb at National Beef and with National Beef COO Terry Wilkerson via conference call.
“National Beef said they would give us some type of response Wednesday,” said Nava. “They called back 2 hours later with some questions. It was a good sign. We have to remember that this is just a proposal and nothing is set in stone. They listened and made a commitment to get back to us. We are trying to answer all of their questions.”
The cattle industry is a billion dollar industry for Imperial Valley.
“If the plant closes on April 4th, it would mean an immediate 18% addition to the unemployment rolls,” said Wharton. “This is on top of the 27% unemployment we have now. That figure is staggering.”
The cattle vendors are still negotiating with National Beef. “We are doing what we can to fight for our employees and fight to save the cattle industry here in the Imperial Valley,” said Mesquite Feedlot President Paul Cameron.