Federal authorities said on Friday that unless four California agencies agree on a water-sharing plan, the state will lose enough Colorado River water to supply 1.4 million people next year.
The rejection of the pact earlier this month by the Imperial Irrigation District, just east of San Diego, prompted U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to threaten to decrease the state's water allotments from the Colorado River, which serves six other states, unless an agreement is reached by Tuesday.
San Diego officials want to continue buying up to 200,000-acre feet of water from rural Imperial Valley, whose farmers expressed concern that they would have to let too many field lie fallow to produce that amount of water.
"The Interior Department decision today ... points out the absolute criticality of the four agencies reaching successful agreement before Jan. 1," said Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager for the San Diego County Water Authority.
Cushman added that efforts were being made to resolve the dispute "in the 104 hours left available to us" before the midnight Dec. 31 deadline.