The California Supreme Court denied a petition by the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) September 27 to review an appellate court ruling in a case over rates set by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, according to the SDCWA website.
For years, San Diego water officials argued the region’s major supplier of water, the Metropolitan Water District overcharged to deliver water to San Diego from the Colorado River. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court declined to take up the case, leaving a lower court ruling siding with Metropolitan in place, according to the San Diego Voice.
After winning significant victories in the trial court and the appellate court, the Water Authority petitioned the state Supreme Court in July on one single question: whether MWD may add State Water Project supply costs to the price it charges to transport the S.D.C. Water Authority’s independent supplies of Colorado River water through MWD’s aqueduct, according to the SDCWA release. The trial court ruled MWD could not, but the Court of Appeal reversed that decision earlier this year. By denying review of the S.D. Water Authority’s petition, the Court of Appeal’s decision on this and all other issues it ruled on become final.
The S.D. Water Authority with the ruling lost a major legal battle to reduce the price of San Diego’s water for its citizens.
“As we look to the future,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors, “our Board will assess how best to protect the interests of San Diego County ratepayers with the continued support of our region’s business associations, civic groups, elected officials and other stakeholders.”
The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which allows MWD to inflate the costs of “wheeling” while subsidizing the price of MWD’s own water for sale, will have a chilling effect on water transfers throughout California, said the SDCWA release after the decision.
Metropolitan’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, said in statement that he hoped the S.D.C. Water Authority’s “aggressive public relations campaign” would now end. “Metropolitan hopes Water Authority officials will finally realize that throwing mud and endlessly fighting in the courts are losing strategies, with millions of rate payer funds spent on legal costs,” he said.
The S.D. Water Authority did pick up smaller savings through its litigation, amounting to an estimated $1.1 billion over the next several decades. But that is about $6 billion less than it had hoped, according to an article in the San Diego Voice.
The big court case was about a side deal the S.D. Water Authority made to buy more Colorado River water from the Imperial Irrigation District, according to the San Diego Voice. That deal was the largest water purchase of its kind in the United States, but the S.D. Water Authority had no way of getting the water to San Diego without using a Metropolitan-owned aqueduct. The two agencies could not agree on how much Metropolitan could charge to deliver the water to San Diego.
Knowing that Metropolitan can continue to charge the rates it does, San Diego is faced with two choices.
SDCWA must decide whether to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion plan to build underground water tunnels in Northern California. The tunnels are meant to ensure water keeps coming into Southern California. The S.D.C. Water Authority had hoped to avoid some of those costs if it had won the court case. Instead, some of those expenses will be heaped on top of the already high price San Diego pays to get the Colorado River water from Imperial County, said the San Diego Voice.
Second, is whether to cancel the whole water deal with Imperial or find some other way to get water from here without relying on Metropolitan. The S.D. Water Authority is so unhappy with Metropolitan’s rates that it has recently examined whether it should build its own pipeline into Imperial County to get water from the Colorado River. The pipeline could cost about $3 billion, plus interest, according to the San Diego Voice.
IID Director Jim Hanks said the SDCWA statement of breaking their part of the QSA with Imperial Irrigation District is a reaction from losing the lawsuit against MWD. The urban water district’s portion of water comes from Imperial Valley’s conserved river allotment. He added SDCWA could legally exit the QSA.
“They have an exit deadline. They have got to decide on a couple of options. Cost of the water (from MWD wheeling charges) and whether it is cheaper somewhere else. They have to decide that right away, as the exit deadline is soon. One of the reasons we haven’t pushed the farms on full-board conservation, we had to see what would come of this lawsuit.” Hanks also questioned if San Diego were to build a pipeline, where would they put it and how far into the Valley would it run?
Hanks said many local growers have changed their fallowing position from ten years ago. Before, they were uniformly opposed to selling water to their thirsty urban neighbors, but now they have gotten used to the checks they receive from fallowing.
If San Diego were to find a cheaper source of water and quit buying Valley water, Hanks believed Las Vegas and Phoenix would immediately open their checkbooks to buy the Valley’s conserved water San Diego no longer wanted.
As specified in the QSA agreements, IID will transfer to SDCWA up to 200,000 acre/feet per year of water conserved from delivery system improvements and on-farm efficiency improvements, all in return for payments totaling billions of dollars. In addition, IID transferred up to 67,000 acre/feet per year of conserved water from the lining of the All-American Canal to SDCWA and certain San Luis Rey Indian Tribes in exchange for the payment of all lining project costs and a grant to IID of certain rights to use the conserved water, according to the IID website.