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California judge tentatively invalidates Colorado River water use agreement

[JURIST] A California judge on Thursday tentatively ruled [opinion, PDF] that a 2003 Colorado River water use agreement is invalid. The agreement settled a dispute over how to divide the Colorado River between California and six other states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Under the agreement, California would significantly reduce the amount of water diverted from farms to California cities over the course of 75 years. Judge Roland Candee of the Sacramento County Superior Court [official website] tentatively found that the agreement was invalid because the state of California agreed to pay to restore the Salton Sea in southeastern California without putting a limit on spending. Candee wrote:

The focus under the facts of these coordinated proceedings is on whether "the Contracts, and each and every portion of such Contracts, are valid, legal and binding and are ... in conformity with all applicable provisions of law ..." The question is, accordingly, whether the State obligation ... withstands judicial scrutiny under a contract validation action standard. ... The answer again must be "no". To hold otherwise would point out, for all to see, a way to contract around the constitutional debt prohibition and the constitutional requirement for an appropriation before expenditure found in our Constitution.

Candee will hold a hearing next week to decide whether to make the ruling final.

Under the agreement, Imperial Valley, the state's largest consumer of Colorado River water, would have to sell up to 90 billion gallons a year to San Diego. The Imperial Irrigation District [website] had asked Candee to approve the agreement in order to avoid future legal challenges. Opponents, including many Imperial Valley landowners, argued that the state's commitment to pay to restore the Salton Sea could have cost the state as much as $60 million.

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