San Diego County Water Authority board to appeal preferential rights decision

April 08, 2004

Vowing to continue its fight to eliminate a system it deems unfair and illegal, the San Diego County Water Authority…

Vowing to continue its fight to eliminate a system it deems unfair and illegal, the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors today voted to appeal a recent appellate court ruling preserving the Metropolitan Water District’s preferential rights process. The board authorized staff to petition a review by the State Supreme Court.

“We entered into this action seeking relief from a process that places almost half of San Diego County’s imported water in jeopardy during water shortages,” said Bernie Rhinerson, Water Authority board chairman. “We are disappointed that the State District Court of Appeals did not see fit to eliminate this unfair system. The Water Authority will continue to pursue this through the appeals process.”

On March 25, the California First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that while a “statute may be harsh, unfair, inequitable or create hardships,” preferential rights was not illegal and denied the Water Authority’s appeal.

The Water Authority maintains that MWD’s formula to determine the water rights of each of its member agencies, which has been based on property taxes since 1928, is outdated. Today MWD receives most of its revenue from water rates, not property taxes. Since the Water Authority purchases more water from MWD and provides more income to MWD than any other single agency, it wants its water rights based on its total share of payments to MWD.

“The board has clearly stated that it is not satisfied with the appeal court’s decision,” said Rhinerson. “As dry years become the norm, the potential for water shortages in Southern California will increase and the city of Los Angeles has indicated it will invoke preferential rights when, and if, needed.

“In fact, during the drought in the early ’90s, Los Angeles received increased water deliveries, while deliveries to the Water Authority were reduced,” said Rhinerson.

Historically, the Water Authority has contributed $3.7 billion to MWD compared to $2.1 billion from the city of Los Angeles. Based on the current formula, the Water Authority received a credit of only 17 cents towards preferential rights for each dollar sent to MWD while Los Angeles received 42 cents per dollar.

If the appellate court’s decision were ultimately upheld, it would confirm that the Water Authority has rights to only half the water it currently purchases from MWD.

“While MWD has asserted that preferential rights will never be invoked, we know that in times of shortage San Diego County’s ability to rely on water from MWD is compromised. The city of Los Angeles had made it clear that it will call on its preferential rights when needed,” said Maureen Stapleton, Water Authority general manager. “The Water Authority and its member agencies will continue to increase the region’s water reliability by diversifying our future water supplies as we continue to seek relief from Metropolitan’s unfair system of preferential rights.”

Key to the Water Authority’s water diversification efforts is the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. The QSA quantifies water entitlements among California water agencies, implements long-term water transfer and supply programs and ensures California up to 75 years of stability in its Colorado River water supplies.

The San Diego County Water Authority-Imperial Irrigation District water transfer agreement, a critical component of the QSA, will transfer 200,000 acre-feet of water annually from IID to the Water Authority for up to 75 years. The Water Authority will receive an additional 77,700 acre-feet per year for 110 years when concrete-lining projects on the All-American and Coachella canals are completed in 2008.

Additional diversification projects by the Water Authority include the development of seawater desalination as a new regional water source and increasing water supplies through conservation, water recycling and groundwater development.

The San Diego County Water Authority is a public agency serving the San Diego region as a wholesale supplier of water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The Water Authority works through its 23 member agencies to provide a safe, reliable water supply to support the region’s $130 billion economy and the quality of life of 3 million residents.

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  • The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $268 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 23 retail water providers, including cities, special districts and a military base.

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