Western State Say Caifornia Water Deal Unfair

River Feud
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Six Western states that share the Colorado River with California have told Gov. Gray Davis that they would not accept the latest version of a landmark deal aimed at weaning the nation's most populous state from its overreliance on the river.

Representatives of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming signed a letter Tuesday to Davis outlining their problems with the complex deal under consideration by four Southern California water agencies. A source close to the negotiations provided a copy of letter to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Approval by the six states is crucial to California's hopes of reaching the long-awaited Colorado River-sharing deal sought by the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the lower Colorado, long a source of intrastate feuding.

The six states found that the 75-year deal, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement or QSA, has exit clauses"that will undermine its permanence or viability."

The deal also should not be subject to"endless litigation,"such as the ongoing court battle between the Interior Department and the water board in the Imperial Valley, the state's biggest user of Colorado River water, the letter said. The water board is fighting the Interior Department's attempts to cut its massive water supply.

Finally, state funding appeared to be in limbo for parts of the deal, such as the construction of a concrete lining to conserve water in the All-American Canal that carries water to the Imperial Valley, the letter stated.

A spokesman for the governor, whose aides helped broker a revised deal between the four water agencies in March, welcomed the letter and said it was simply a matter of"clarification."

"We are definitely working to address the issues they identified,"said the spokesman, Byron Tucker."Overall, we view this as a positive step. Now that we have their issues in writing, we feel we'll be able to avoid potential roadblocks in the future."

The letter's author, Herbert R. Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, did not return a call seeking comment.

The four Southern California agencies met Wednesday in Sacramento with aides to the governor and Bennett Raley, the assistant Interior secretary responsible for Western water issues.

In a telephone interview, Raley said the six states must be satisified before it approves the deal between four Southern California water agencies that involves a massive water transfer from Imperial Valley farmers to San Diego.

"It is very, very important to the secretary that they are comfortable,"he said."There is a long-standing and very deep tradition of consultaion between the department and all the states."

The deal is also California's ticket to getting back river water that it lost this year.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton cut the amount of water California can draw from the river this year by 15 percent as punishment for the state's failure to reach an agreement by Dec. 31. The state will be able to draw the surplus water for 15 years when a deal is approved.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the huge, Los Angeles-based water wholesaler serving 18 million people, has held up the deal and has echoed the problems the six states cited with the agreement, including the exit clauses and the uncertain sources of state funding.

"We've had other concerns that continue to be ignored, such as the dramatic drought in the Colorado River basin, which makes it highly unlikely that surplus water would be available even with an agreement,"said Adan Ortega, a spokesman for the agency.

Last month, aides to the governor floated another proposal that addressed the Salton Sea, an inland sump that is a major stop for migratory birds, and shifted the costs of environmental mitigiation from taxpayers to water users. The proposal was cheered by environmentalists, but had not been adopted by all four agencies.