Divvying up the Colorado River's water among the farms, homes, and industry of six dry states has taken many a hard-fought political battle. No wonder: The Colorado supplies more than half the West's water. And recent droughts have pushed its levels to new lows, making the water even scarcer - while California, the thirstiest state, has routinely taken more than its share.
That's why a deal signed last week by Interior Secretary Gale Norton that more fairly doles out the river puts a welcome end to recent disputes.
The agreement calls for California's farm-rich Imperial and Coachella valleys to accept water limits. As part of the deal, the Imperial district will sell water to San Diego and other cities. San Diego alone will get some 90 billion gallons a year (meeting about one-third of its current water needs). The move also should bring relief to other thirsty states like Nevada, whose own burgeoning populations also depend on the Colorado.
The agreement also means California farms must work to reduce their water use by planting fewer crops or growing those that require less water.
But the deal doesn't mean the water should be taken for granted. City dwellers still should conserve. And it doesn't give license to more free-wheeling growth in the dry parts of the West without conservation measures firmly in place.