California's biggest user of the Colorado River approved a pact that will curtail the state's overuse of the water supply, clearing the way for the landmark deal that water agencies have been bickering over for years.
The 75-year deal calls for water from desert farms to be shipped to fast-growing San Diego County.
The deal was approved 3-2 late Thursday by the Imperial Irrigation District, the last of four Southern California water boards that have been negotiating for years.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the San Diego County Water Authority and the Coachella Valley Water District agreed last month to sign the accord.
"It's time to get this deal done and go on and do what we do, which is farm," said Bruce Kuhn, the Imperial board member who cast the vote needed for approval.
The deal's purpose is twofold: to reduce California's long-standing overreliance on the river so other Western states can claim their fair share, and to ease fears that Southern California would have to look north to meet its future water needs.
Approval of the long-awaited deal restores California's privileges to draw additional Colorado water for 18 million people. The U.S. Interior Department took away those privileges after Imperial rejected the pact in December, concerned about the environmental consequences of transferring so much water.
Many in the heavily agricultural valley view the Colorado River as the region's lifeblood. That belief has created opposition to a cornerstone of the deal: agreement that Imperial will transfer up to 200,000 acre-feet a year to urban San Diego and possibly other 1.6 million acre-feet to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Thursday, Imperial was once again left with the final vote. This time, after three hours of discussion, Kuhn changed the way he voted last winter.
"I believe we can live with it," said Kuhn, whose family grows alfalfa and runs a dairy. "I don't think anyone will get rich off it. But I don't think it's going to hurt the socioeconomics of the area."