Imperial, California - The Imperial Irrigation District appeared before Imperial County Superior Court Judge Brooks Anderholt, Tuesday, to defend itself in a contempt-of-court lawsuit filed by farmer Mike Abatti. This is an extension of the litigation brought against the district by Abatti in 2013 that challenged IID’s Equitable Distribution Plan, and is currently on appeal before the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

In his latest legal challenge to IID’s water rights and operations, Abatti asked the trial court to find IID in contempt for violating the judge’s August 2017 order prohibiting the district from entering into any new industrial water supply contracts until it implements an EDP based on water history.

At issue is an amendment approved by the IID board late last year to an existing water supply contract with longtime customer Ormat. That amendment calls for, but does not guarantee, an additional 500 acre-feet per year to the geothermal company; as such, IID’s position is that the contract amendment does not violate Anderholt’s 2017 order.

Judge Anderholt, who found in his original decision that Imperial Valley agricultural landowners have “a constitutionally protected water right,” said that he would be taking the matter under submission and issuing an order in the next week.

IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said that it was clear, based on the judge’s exchange with the attorneys representing Abatti and the district, that he is focusing on the language and terms of the IID/Ormat contract, which Judge Anderholt acknowledged dates back to 1994, and the 2019 amendment.

“The judge will be issuing an order in this case, and it is obvious to me that he is sensitive to the competing interests involved here, and to the public interest,” said Oswalt.

“What the district does next, legally, to defend the ability of this public agency to serve all of its water users will be up to the elected board, and will depend on what is in that order,” he said.