Law: Cheap Water for a Lush Valley

Big growers and unwary prisoners win Supreme Court tests

California's Imperial Valley, just above the Mexican border, is one of the world's lushest agricultural areas, a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, where several crops are harvested a year. What helped make this former desert bloom is a bountiful supply of federally subsidized irrigation water. Last week, in a victory for the valley's large landholders, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Government must continue to provide them with low-cost water.

Under federal acts of 1902 and 1926, intended to preserve the small, single-family farm, Congress limited cheap water to landholdings no larger than...

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