Water Authority Board Approves Moving Forward with New Study of a Regional Conveyance System between the Imperial Valley and San Diego

Pictured is a map indicating three potential routes for a proposed regional conveyance system that would move Quantification Settlement Agreement conserved water directly from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. Two of the routes (the light blue and purple lines) follow a southern route. The third proposed route, (shown in both a yellow and darker blue line) follows a northern path.

With a focus on prudent future planning for the San Diego area, our regional partners, and the State, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors adopted a two-year budget on Thursday, June 27, that includes moving forward with a two-phase study of a regional conveyance system that could move Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) transfer water directly between the Imperial Valley and San Diego. The Colorado River Aqueduct currently conveys this water north before it flows to San Diego. This new study, which would be completed over the next two years, would consider the feasibility of such a pipeline with a focus on “multi-use” versus “single-use” and consider the needs of other stakeholders who could benefit from such a regional conveyance system and explore public and private sector partnership opportunities to further the concept of multiple benefits.

As part of Thursday’s meeting, the Water Authority marked its 75th anniversary. Imperial Irrigation District Board President Erik Ortega was among the dignitaries in attendance for the celebration, and in comments to the Water Authority Board of Directors, he spoke of the proposed regional conveyance system, stating “it may also be an idea whose time has come.”

On June 18, Dan Denham, the Water Authority’s assistant general manager, gave a presentation to the IID Board of Directors during a public board meeting. He highlighted the fact that a conveyance pipeline for the Water Authority’s QSA supplies has been studied in the past, but this expanded review will consider a system that could serve multiple needs, including helping California with water management and opening the door to much-needed storage opportunities for the IID that could support agriculture while addressing critical issues like the Salton Sea and the need for more renewable energy development. There also could be an international component explored with Mexico. Denham further highlighted that going forward, it will be crucial to engage in talks with all interested stakeholders to seek input and ensure the project does meet the goal of providing benefits across sectors. IID Director Jim Hanks stated during that meeting the potential for storage development related to the project “perks an interest for this board.”

A crucial point is that the proposed pipeline would be designed at a capacity to only convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. That includes 200,000 acre-feet of conserved water, generated from on-farm conservation and IID’s system conservation, and 80,000 acre-feet from the lining of the All-American and Coachella canals. It is also important to remember the current Water Transfer Agreement between IID and the Water Authority continues to 2047, but both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077. The 80,000 acre-feet of water created through the canal lining projects is part of a separate agreement that lasts 110 years. The time is growing near for discussions on long-term water planning and strategies for the future that best meet regional and State needs. The study is meant to determine whether a new conveyance system should be part of that long-term planning.

As the study gets underway, there are three routes currently under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley. Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Valley and San Diego with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling underneath the mountains. Both routes would lead to the San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego. The third northern route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow through Borrego Springs, through the mountains and eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.

The Water Authority looks forward to engaging with those interested in the project and will be meeting with all sectors to seek input crucial to the success of the study. The time for these discussions has come. If any individual or group in the Imperial Valley is interested in a presentation on the study and proposed conveyance system, contact staff member Darren Simon at dsimon@sdcwa.org or by calling 760.337.1386. He is based in the Valley with the Water Authority office located at 203 S. Waterman Avenue in the Valley Plaza.

It took a pioneering spirit of past generations to build the systems that California depends on today to convey water. As we look toward the next era in water management, that same pioneering spirit will be necessary to ensure the needs of the State, each water agency and future generations are met in a sensible manner that safeguards the State’s water and the stakeholders who depend on that precious resource. Perhaps, a new conveyance system can play a role in achieving that end.