In a unanimous decision that upholds the Water Transfer Agreement between the San Diego County Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) through 2047, the Water Authority Board of Directors on Thursday, Dec. 7, extended a key agreement for the conveyance of the conserved transfer water. The action represents a critical milestone in the water transfer and the Quantification Settlement Agreement, ensuring the continuation of a reliable water supply to the San Diego region and the funding to IID that supports the district’s conservation program.
At issue was the Exchange Agreement between the Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). When IID and the Water Authority negotiated the Water Transfer Agreement, a separate agreement was reached with MWD to convey the conserved water through MWD’s Colorado River Aqueduct. An ongoing dispute between the Water Authority and MWD over rates and charges led to an Exchange Agreement for conveyance of transfer water for a period that was ten years less than the transfer agreement with IID through 2047.
As part of the agreement with MWD, the Water Authority at year 15 of the transfer (this year) has the unilateral decision to determine whether to extend the Exchange Agreement to the full term of the transfer or reduce the transfer by ten years.
The action Thursday to extend the Exchange Agreement through 2047 sends an important message that the Water Authority remains committed to the historic water conservation-and-transfer agreement with IID and remains a committed partner in supporting the landmark QSA, the set of agreements meant to balance Colorado River supplies by reducing California’s use of the Colorado River to its 4.4 million acre-foot allotment. The Water Transfer Agreement with IID is the cornerstone of the QSA, which has continued to meet its mutually beneficial goals of providing a reliable water supply to San Diego, a critical funding mechanism to the Imperial Valley, a way for the State to control its use of the Colorado River and for the federal government to better manage the river.
The action by the Water Authority Board of Directors also paves the way for future discussions between IID and the Water Authority for a 30-year extension of the Water Transfer Agreement—which would increase the transfer to a 75-year agreement. However, that is a decision that must be made by both agencies.
The vote to support extending the Exchange Agreement comes at a pivotal time in the water transfer program. In total, the transfer agreement calls for the transfer of up to 200,000 acre-feet of conserved water from IID to the Water Authority annually. Under the program, it was established that there would be a slow ramp-up to that amount. The 200,000 acre-feet target will be met in 2021. Currently, and for the last three years, the transfer amount has hovered at 100,000 acre-feet. Come 2018, the amount increases to 130,000 acre-feet and begins its climb toward the full transfer amount.
In addition, the Water Authority is assessing potential future water conveyance options that don’t depend on MWD – specifically, the cost and feasibility of building its own aqueduct from the Imperial Valley. While a new conveyance facility would be a significant investment, it could deliver significant benefits, such as transporting conserved water from IID through 2077, if the Transfer Agreement is extended for an additional term. The conveyance facility could also transport water conserved by the lining of the All-American and Coachella canals. The Water Authority receives approximately 80,000 acre-feet a year from the canal lining projects for 110 years under a contract with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Any alternative conveyance of conserved water would have to be agreed upon by both the Water Authority and IID.