IMPERIAL — In what amounted to a routine request for more information, the clerk of the United States Supreme Court requested the Imperial Irrigation District to file a response to Michael Abatti’s petition for certiorari on Monday, April 26, according to a press release.
The following day, the Imperial County Farm Bureau issued a press release incorrectly suggesting that the US Supreme Court is concerned that the California Appellate Court’s ruling on the Abatti case would deprive Imperial Valley residents of water.
Among other things, the Farm Bureau’s statement and brief filed with the court suggested that Imperial Valley’s water rights are property rights enjoyed by those who own agricultural land and described doomsday scenario consequences if the Supreme Court does not intervene to create private property rights to water where none exist, according to the release.
Various users in the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada have contracts to divert water from the Colorado River dating back to the construction of the Hoover Dam. IID exclusively holds the contract with the United States to deliver water for beneficial use on lands in the Imperial Valley.
The release stated water users in the Imperial Valley have a right to be served this water by the IID. Four decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Bryant v. Yellen that, “landowners have a legally enforceable right, appurtenant to their lands, to continued service by the District.”
Together, the IID’s contract to divert water from the Colorado River and Imperial Valley water users’ right to be served constitutes Imperial Valley’s water right. Imperial Valley’s world class agriculture, an industry that creates a multi-billion-dollar farming economy and thousands of local jobs, is the result of this arrangement.
Farmers in Imperial Valley have a legally enforceable right to service by IID, as the Supreme Court has already held. However, that right to service has never constituted an “appurtenant water right” — a novel term used to incorrectly infer a private property right owned by agricultural landowners, according to the release.
“The best way to protect Imperial Valley’s water right for full use where we live and farm is not to rewrite history and the law, but to embrace it. A century of efforts on the land, in Congress, and in the courts has developed a water right for the benefit of the people and lands of the Imperial Valley, making half a million acres of farms and a home for nearly 200,000 people in the desert possible,” said IID Board of Directors Vice President JB Hamby.
He continued, “Asking the Supreme Court to convene as a panel of judicial activists to redefine Imperial Valley’s water rights as property owned by landowners is a guaranteed slippery slope to buy-and-dry by outside interests in Imperial Valley and agricultural communities along the River, but I’m confident that won’t be the case. We have one of the most secure water rights on the Colorado River — tampering with it won’t help.”
IID Board President James C. Hanks said, “The Board respects Mr. Michael Abatti’s and other parties’ right to pursue resolution in this matter and the Board has committed to meet its oath of office and its fiduciary duties of care and loyalty as elected officials of the IID. While both parties hold steadfast to their positions on the matter, waiting for a decision whether the case will be accepted by the US Supreme Court, the IID will respond to the Court’s request for more information simply by stating the facts and already established law.”
IID Counsel Frank Oswalt stated that less than 3 percent of cases are accepted by the Supreme Court. “The US Supreme Court will not be interested in re-adjudicating what is essentially a question of state law. There is no doubt that the US Supreme Court will deny this request.”