Judge L. Brooks Anderholt has denied an injunction filed by a local farmer that would have stopped the Imperial Irrigation District from taking part in a plan to prevent shortages on the drought-plagued Colorado River.

Anderholt issued his decision Thursday afternoon denying farmer Mike Abatti’s request for an injunction that would have effectively forbade the IID from voting on a drought contingency plan based on a previous ruling by Anderholt that favored Abatti over the IID and its equitable distribution plan.

That ruling precluded the district from entering into any new contracts that have to do with water (such as a drought contingency plan) because water rights are tied to the land and are a property right of the agricultural user, according to the Abatti filing submitted to the court by his attorney Cheryl Orr. That case is currently under appeal by the IID.

Regarding Thursday’s ruling, “IID is gratified, but not surprised, that the Superior Court decided in favor of the district. If the plaintiffs should make the same overreaching request of the appellate court, IID is confident that it will prevail in that forum, too,” said Antonio Ortega, IID governmental affairs and communications officer in a statement Friday morning.

Attempts were made to contact Abatti through his attorney via email. She did not immediately respond Friday.

The drought contingency plan is a set of plans to address a historic drought on the Colorado River among the western states that draw from it, and to address declining elevations at Lake Mead reservoir. Specifically Abatti, as well as a small group of vocal farmers, are at odds over an intra-California agreement between IID and Metropolitan Water District that in its draft form has spelled out a contribution of 250,000 acre-feet of water to be contributed by the IID and stored at Lake Mead.

Orr contends that according to Anderholt’s own decision that water is a property right of the landowners, IID cannot vote of the DCP without agricultural users’ permission.

At stake in the injunction and in the larger Abatti case under appeal by the district, ultimately, is a question of who controls the water rights in the Imperial Valley. Are they held in trust by the IID for the benefit of the public, or do the water rights belong to the land owners?

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro Brown can be reached at 760-337-3452 or rbrown@ivpressonline.com

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