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The Last Stand of the Wild West: Twenty-First Century Water Wars in Southern California

October 2008

Citation: ELR 10726

Author: Shannon Baker-Branstetter

Editor's Summary: In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) of California agreed to transfer water from rural Imperial County to urban southern California cities as part of a quantitative settlement agreement (QSA). The Colorado River water that the IID transferred to the wealthy coastal cities was held in trust for the residents of the Imperial Valley, the poorest county in the state. In this Article, Shannon Baker-Branstetter asserts that the IID Board of Directors breached its trust to the residents and farmers of Imperial County when it sold water rights to municipal districts in southern California. The IID leased the water for less-than-market price for an unreasonable length of time, and the IID Board of Directors did not insist on adequate compensation and a formalized plan to mitigate damage to the public health that will result when the reduced runoff from agriculture exposes the Salton Sea lakebed. Thus, the IID exacerbated the poor economic conditions of residents of the county.

Shannon Baker-Branstetter is a J.D. candidate at Georgetown University Law Center. She thanks Malissa McKeith and her colleagues, Nicole Wilson and Maya Grasse, at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP for their knowledgeable assistance on the pending quantitative settlement agreement cases; the Salton Sea State Park Visitor Center staff for providing background materials and local insight; Prof. William Butler of Georgetown University Law Center for his guidance and invaluable feedback; and Jennifer Davitt, librarian at Georgetown Law Library, and librarians at the Witkin California State Law Library for their research support and assistance.

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