From cementing major court victories to guiding bills through the state Legislature, the Water Authority made a positive impact on the region and the state. The agency helped forestall what would have been a precedent-setting tax on drinking water, and it successfully supported state efforts to advance restoration projects at the Salton Sea that will help the State of California live up to commitments it made more than 15 years ago. In addition, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors lent its support to a statewide bond measure for water-related projects that California voters passed in June.
The Water Authority secured victories in a case of statewide significance over rates set by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California with final court action in September. Among those victories:
- MWD must pay the Water Authority an estimated $44 million for so-called “Water Stewardship” charges MWD added to the water transportation rates it charged the Water Authority from 2011-2014. Going forward, MWD is barred from imposing illegal charges that would have amounted to approximately $1.1 billion through 2047.
- MWD unlawfully undercalculated the Water Authority’s statutory water right to MWD’s water supply. Correct calculations increased the Water Authority’s legal right to MWD water by more than 30 percent annually, or approximately 100,000 acre-feet of additional water each year. That’s about twice the annual production of the $1 billion Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Plant.
- The “Rate Structure Integrity” contract clause MWD used to disqualify local water supply projects in San Diego County from receiving MWD funds was ruled unconstitutional. Local projects were once again considered for funding starting in November.
A joint effort by the Water Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council to improve landscape water-use efficiency passed the state Legislature during the fiscal year and moved to the governor’s desk. Assembly Bill 2371 by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (Los Angeles) would statutorily advance several consensus-based concepts to improve landscape water-use efficiency, as recommended by an Independent Technical Panel under the Department of Water Resources. In addition, Water Authority-sponsored AB 2064 by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria and Shirley Weber (both of San Diego) was passed by the Legislature for the governor’s review. The bill is intended to address cashflow issues for non-profit organizations and disadvantaged communities participating in Integrated Regional Water Management Programs.
San Diego regional business, civic, and water industry officials joined forces with the Water Authority to successfully oppose a proposed $135 million per year tax on drinking water in California that would harm ratepayers and likely foster more attempts to tax the state’s most precious natural resource. Thirty agencies and organizations across the region signed a letter to legislators opposing the drinking water tax plan, and many of them voiced their opposition at a May news conference organized by the Water Authority to highlight problems with the plan. In the face of statewide opposition, attempts at getting legislative approval for the tax plan failed during the 2017-18 session, though the idea is likely to return in future years.
With support from the Water Authority, the State Water Resources Control Board in November reaffirmed the State of California’s continued support for the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer and the mitigation program outlined in the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. The Water Transfer Agreement between the Water Authority and Imperial Irrigation District is a cornerstone of the QSA and a foundational piece of the Water Authority’s diversification strategy for ensuring a reliable water supply for the San Diego region. The State Water Board’s stipulated order calls for the state’s Salton Sea Management Program to provide dust control and restore habitat on 30,000 acres of exposed playa over 10 years; allow for the continued implementation of a mitigation program approved as part of the original Water Rights Order for the QSA; grant the State Water Board oversight authority over restoration efforts; and draft a long-term plan for restoration by 2022.
Following an endorsement by the Water Authority’s Board of Directors, Proposition 68 passed by California’s voters in the June election. The bond measure funds important projects in the San Diego region, and it provides more than $1 billion for water-related initiatives statewide. Of special regional significance is funding to help the state meet its obligations for Salton Sea restoration. The bond includes $170 million in funding for the Natural Resources Agency to advance the state’s Salton Sea Management Program, as well as $30 million for the Salton Sea Authority to fund capital projects providing air quality and habitat benefits. Proposition 68 also includes $12 million in funding for the San Diego River Conservancy. Although no bond funds were allocated directly to the Water Authority, Proposition 68 provides new funding opportunities to member agencies for projects such as water recycling, advanced water treatment technology, and regional water supply sustainability initiatives.
Legislative Roundtable Connect Elected Officials, Regional Leaders
The Water Authority's long-running series of Legislative Roundtables brings together regional stakeholders to discuss water issues with elected officials. Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher spoke at the Water Authority's Legislative Roundtable in August 2017. Assemblymember Todd Gloria spoke at the Water Authority's Legislative Roundtable in December 2017.