Part 3 in a series written by Brawley farmer and water erudite, Rusty Jordan. The series was written in relation to the Michael Abatti v IID case. The column is the opinion of the author and not necessarily The Desert Review.
Now the QSA:
Under the Law of the River, Imperial Irrigation District (#3) had a right to 3.85 million acre/feet (ma/f) of water less priorities to (#1) Palo Verde, and (#2) Bard. Most mistakenly think 104,000 acres in Palo Verde have prior perfected rights and take 4-5 a/f, that is wrong. Prior to 1929’s establishment of Prior Perfected Rights (PPR’s) Palo Verde had only 36,000 acres in production (180,000 a/f), Bard had a 25,000 a/f use. Thus, IID had 3,850,000 a/f, less Palo Verde’s 180,000 a/f and Bard’s 25,000 a/f, or a first call on 3,645,000 a/f. The three are followed by Coachella, the Palo Verde Valley, and Mesa added use later, pre-dating Coachella.
When the smoke of the QSA cleared, IID had a right to 3,100,000 a/f from which they sold Metropolitan 110,000 a/f extended to 35 years at cost, Coachella got 300,000 a/f, equal in right to IID.
IID gave up superiority to Coachella without compensation, plus agreed to conserve and transfer 50,000 a/f for 75 years, and 50,000 for 37 years at nominal cost — Palo Verde goes from 180,000 a/f to 550,000 guaranteed by Metropolitan Water District. San Diego received 200,000 a/f from the IID’s 3.1 m a/f and 87,000 a/f from the concrete lining of the All-American Canal, some which went to Indian Tribes in San Diego area. This leaves IID with around 2,600,000 a/f, just about 1,045,000 less than they had before. With Coachella and MWD getting water at about cost, the only real money to the Valley for this was the sale of 200,000 a/f a year to San Diego.
To be clear, since 1948 Coachella had received 300,000 a/f of Colorado River Water from the Bureau of Interior on contract. The QSA made that right equal to IID’s right, plus IID agreed to furnish 50,000 a/f at $50 per a/f Consumer Price Index (CPI) protected for 75 years and 50,000 a/f protected for 37 years at $100. One 50,000 a/f was to rebuild ground water basin overdraft, the second was to give water to cover the expansion of water use above the 300,000 allotment.
Why did IID do this? The Department of Interior pressured the district by starting a 417 process challenge of IID’s use. The 417 process is a challenge by the Department of Interior to the reasonable and beneficial use of water. IID laid out its defense of water usage.
The Department of Interior findings could have defined what the IID had to do to be deemed reasonable and beneficial. IID could have in turn challenged MWD’s water use. Southern California looks like Ohio in a desert. Rules would have been established on what was reasonable and beneficial and IID could have adjusted.
Bennet Railey, after the fact, when asked what he would have done if IID had not entered into the QSA said “he didn’t know.”
In the 417 process, IID made one assertion that was thrown out. IID claimed that water needed to flow across the land to water the soil needed to do lateral leaching. The idea was as the water flowed across the land it picked up salt and helped the less permeable lands remove salt. This assertion was dismissed by the DOI. They rightly found that the increase in salinity of the water as it crossed the field was caused by evaporation.
DOI decreed water running out of the end of the field could be 15 percent of inflow. This was needed to have sufficient water dwell-time to get to the end of the field, enough water to sufficiently water the ground and leach salts delivered in the irrigation water. The acceptance of 10 percent leaching factor required by Valley farmers to keep salinity declining were wins for IID.
The recent advent of shallow tile has shown that surface leaching is unneeded, and properly dismissed by DOI. The farmers in general agreed with the DOI and were not against the 417 process. The IID used the 417 process to scare people into supporting the QSA.
Under the pressure, what did IID relinquish to make the QSA possible? With MWD in the way, they gave up storage in Lake Mead of intentionally created surplus for later withdrawal. Before the quantification of water right to 3.1 m a/f, IID had no need of storage — they had adequate water. With the limit, there would be years when they could and would use more than their allotment. A reasonable person would like to have a savings account that would cushion any overrun. The DOI had stated that in normal times they would allow up to a 10 percent overrun, which would need to be paid back. In times of shortage, no overruns would be allowed.
In addition to no storage, MWD got a 55-year extension of its 1990 conservation agreement. This agreement would have expired in 2025 and if MWD didn’t re-negotiate the deal the market value of the 110,000 feet above conservation cost would have been $40,000,000 per year to IID, above cost, at today’s value.
Next Week: Billions of dollars in water sales and a million acre/feet lost in the QSA.