Fresh on the water scene in Imperial County is a proposal from the IID’s neighbor agency San Diego County Water Authority. The SDCWA is an umbrella organization that comprises 24 members, including all the cities and water districts in San Diego County.
SDCWA is looking into the possibility of building a pipeline (aqueduct, more accurately) to get its water directly from the Imperial Valley instead of indirectly through the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in Los Angeles. SDCWA and MWD have a history of litigation about how much MWD can charge for transporting water from Lake Havasu through MWD’s Colorado River Aqueduct to reservoirs in northern San Diego County.
SDCWA thinks the investment in an aqueduct from the Imperial Valley to its reservoirs will save money in the long run and eliminate its dependence on the MWD. The idea is to get rid of the middleman.
Under the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) of 2003, the SDCWA can receive up to 280,000 acre-feet of our water per year. Last year, they paid the IID $107 million for it. Although the IID signed the QSA reluctantly and under pressure from the Department of the Interior, the revenue from the deal has created a new industry of water conservation and helped keep the price of water to farmers and cities at $20 an acre-foot.
Without the subsidy of that revenue, farmers and cities would be paying more than double the current amount at an extra cost of $40 million per year.
The Water Authority’s proposed aqueduct scares some locals. They say it will suck the Valley dry. They say that the new aqueduct would mean additional transfers of our precious water outside the Valley. But let’s look at the facts.
First, the proposal is to build an aqueduct for the water that SDCWA is already getting. It doesn’t call for any additional water. The Valley is not being sucked dry now. The agricultural sector is healthy and growing. As already mentioned, the transfer revenue helps fund innovation in using less water.
Second, the aqueduct would provide many benefits to the economy here in the Valley. It would require new electricity for pumping and spur job growth in the solar, wind, and geothermal generating sectors.
Third, if an aqueduct were built, the IID would be able to manage its water more efficiently. Without any large storage here and no rights to store water in Lake Mead, IID has to hit its allocation target exactly. Right now, if the IID does not use its full allotment from the Colorado River, MWD gets our unused water — for free! If the IID uses more than its allotment, the IID must pay back the Bureau of Reclamation with conserved water that it must buy at high rates.
An aqueduct to San Diego would allow the IID to take advantage of a new reservoir that SDCWA would build here and reservoirs in San Diego County. We would no longer give away water to the MWD or spend millions paying for water we over-ordered.
Right now, the Metropolitan Water District in LA has inordinate political power on Colorado River matters. The aqueduct would better position both the IID and SDCWA and lessen the MWD’s influence over our affairs.
The alarmist attitude of some farmers and their candidates for public office is unwarranted. While the fear of losing our water rights is understandable, the courts have ruled over and over that the IID’s rights to Colorado River are watertight.
The sentiment against more transfers is strong and consistent in the community. So when a candidate runs for a seat on the IID board on a platform of “No more transfers,” it’s like being against more 110-degree summer days. All the candidates are against more transfers.
We’ve borne the lion’s share of the reductions so that California could live within its legal limits of Colorado River water, all for the benefit of the urban areas on the coast. Enough. No more transfers.
But remember that the current proposal is just to study the aqueduct idea. From now to completion, we’re talking a very long time. Environmental studies, permitting, engineering, and construction would push this $5 billion endeavor out 20 to 30 years from now. Approving a study does not lead us to the brink of catastrophe as some doomsayers have claimed.
An aqueduct to San Diego could mean new development, better control of water use, and a stronger position with MWD. If the deal includes stipulation of no additional water to San Diego, it’s something we ought to take a long, sober look at.