From: David Kravets, Associated Press
Published December 5, 2006 12:00 AM

Water War along Mexico-California Border Sparked by Proposed Improvements to Canal

SAN FRANCISCO — Government lawyers are urging a federal appeals court to allow a section of a canal separating California and Mexico to be lined with cement to stop millions of gallons of water from seeping south of the border each year.

The lining is proposed along a portion of the 82-mile (132-kilometer) All-American Canal that delivers Colorado River water to crop land on both sides of the border about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of San Diego.

The U.S. government says Mexico already gets 489 billion gallons (1.8 trillion liters) of Colorado River water legitimately each year under a 1944 treaty and isn't entitled to the seepage, which provides a farming lifeline in Mexico.

A Justice Department attorney told a panel of three appellate judges on Monday that Mexicans have no right to the water, which is also the lifeblood for 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares)of U.S. farmland.

The lining project will provide enough water for 135,000 new homes in the San Diego area.

The San Francisco-based appeals court temporarily blocked construction of the US$210 million (euro158 million), 23-mile (37-kilometer) -long lining in August after Mexican business interests and U.S. environmental groups sued.

The lawsuit claims there would be significant job losses on the Mexican side of the border as thousands of acres (hectares) of crops would turn to dust, that Mexican wells would become polluted without the seepage and migratory birds would be threatened if wetlands disappeared.

R. Gaylord Smith, an attorney for Consejo de Desarrollo Economico de Mexicali, a Mexican business group, argued that the U.S. has abandoned rights to the water.

Judge Sidney Thomas said the U.S. might have abandoned the water, but that doesn't mean "somebody else acquires it."

Malissa Hathaway, another attorney for the business group, argued the canal project would be detrimental to both sides of the border.

"No one has looked at the economic effects of taking land out of production," she said.

Water consumption spurred by breakneck growth in Southern California prompted Western states to complain they weren't getting their share of Colorado River water. The dispute resulted in a water redistribution deal that included the lining project as California settled for less water.

Colorado River water first flowed to California's arid southeast in 1901 on the Alamo Canal, which dipped into Mexico. California farmers soon decided they needed a canal completely within the United States, leading to completion of the All-American in 1942.

Critics of the project say migrants might die crossing a lined canal because concrete will deprive desperate swimmers of tall grasses to grab. While the canal appears calm, migrants who cram onto inflatable rafts could be swept away by a fierce undercurrent.

The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule.

The Mexican government is not a party to the case, but disapproved of the lining in court briefs.

Source: Associated Press

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