Secretary of the Interior Babbitt to sign historic Colorado River agreement

January 13, 2001

The final major component of a plan to reduce California’s dependence on Colorado River water is set for implementation when…

The final major component of a plan to reduce California’s dependence on Colorado River water is set for implementation when the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, signs the Record of Decision for Colorado River Interim Surplus Criteria. The Secretary will sign the agreement at a ceremony hosted by the San Diego County Water Authority at 10 a.m. Jan. 16, at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort 2000 Second St., Coronado, Calif.

As part of California’s Colorado River Water Use Plan, the Interim Surplus Criteria will allow California to continue to receive surplus Colorado River water over the next 15 years while the state implements programs included in the plan that will help it reduce its dependence on the river.

“It is very significant that the Secretary chose to sign this accord in San Diego County, since this is where it all began,” said James Turner, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors. “A linchpin of California’s Colorado River Water Use Plan is the San Diego County Water Authority-Imperial Irrigation District water transfer agreement – the first agreement of the Plan to be reached and the catalyst for the plan’s other elements.”

Interim Surplus Criteria, along with the Authority transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, and a settlement that quantifies agricultural entitlements to Colorado River water, are the major components of California’s Colorado River Water Use Plan, which holds one of the keys to a reliable water supply for San Diego County’s future.

The transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District will provide up to 200,000 acre-feet of conserved water annually to San Diego County, and is the largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in United States history. Participating Imperial Valley farmers will make the water available through the Imperial Irrigation District by employing extraordinary conservation measures that will reduce the amount of Colorado River water they take, thereby making that water available to the Water Authority.

The quantification settlement is a comprehensive approach to water management including water conservation projects, transfers and exchanges which establishes specific annual Colorado River water entitlements among participating agencies.

Interim Surplus Criteria allows the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, currently the Water Authority’s only supplier, to continue receiving surplus water out of Lake Mead storage for a 15-year transition period. During that time, the state will work to reduce its use of Colorado River water to its basic apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet. With the continuation of surplus supplies during this transition period and the Authority’s water transfer, Metropolitan will be able to keep the Colorado River Aqueduct full while conservation and other projects outlined in the Colorado River Water Use Plan are implemented.

The other six Colorado River basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada — had been asked to help California meet its water needs during this transition period by agreeing to revisions to the operating criteria for the river. The Interim Surplus Criteria contain specific benchmarks, conditioning the continuation of those criteria on California’s achievement of specified reductions in its need for Colorado River surplus.

Babbitt announced in December he had accepted the Interim Surplus Criteria proposal from representatives of the seven states. Signing the Record of Decision makes that approval official.

“Representatives from all the Colorado River Basin states worked together to come up with a solution that will protect the individual states’ needs, while providing California a “Ösoft landing’ and time to reduce its usage of water from the River” Turner said.

The San Diego County Water Authority is a public agency serving the San Diego region as a wholesale supplier of water from Northern California and the Colorado River. The Water Authority works through its 23 member agencies to provide a safe, reliable water supply to more than 2.9 million county 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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