Skip to Content

Home Grown: Dispute over water rights possibly going to U.S. Supreme Court

CBS 13's April Hettinger dives into the disagreement over who controls the rights to the water from the Colorado River

EL CENTRO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - In today's Home Grown, a local lawsuit over ownership of the Colorado River water might be taken higher to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Michael Abatti versus the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) lawsuit has been ongoing in the valley, disputing over whether water rights belong to the landowners or if they are controlled by the IID.

"The best way we can protect our water rights is we can have it tied to the land, or as the Supreme Court decision said, appurtenant to the land," Larry Cox said, former president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.

Abatti won the lawsuit in Imperial County Superior Court, but Katie Turner, attorney with Sutherland and Gerber says it didn't make it to the California Supreme Court.

"They did not hear the case, and so the next stage is to go to the U.S. Supreme Court," Turner stated.

They will need 4 votes in the U.S. Supreme Court for the case to be picked up.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also requesting a response from the IID by May 26th.

In April, the Imperial County Farm Bureau (ICFB) and Imperial Valley H2O, a local water rights advocacy group, stood with Abatti that water rights should be kept to the land.

"If I sell a piece of property, that property retains the water rights to it. I can't take that water from that property and move it out of the valley, and that's the way it's been and that's the way it should stay," Cox explained.

The IID took control of water rights in 2013.

Vice president of the IID, JB Hamby, says in a statement:

"We have one of the most secure water rights on the Colorado River — tampering with it won’t help."

JB Hamby, vice president of the IID

But, advocates for landowner water rights, like 4th generation farmer Paula McConnell-Pangle, want to keep it the way things were before the new policy.

"It was water that brought the pioneers to this valley to start farming, and it's water that's going to keep everyone in Imperial Valley," McConnell-Pangle stated.

The president of the IID, James C. Hanks says they will respond to the U.S. Supreme court by quote "stating the facts and already established laws."

Author Profile Photo

April Hettinger

April was born and raised in San Diego where she loved the beach town and her two dogs, Lexi and Malibu. She decided to trade the beach for the snow and advanced her education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Skip to content