Transfers Enhance Region’s Water Supply, Protect Economy

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October 16, 2013, marks the tenth anniversary of one of the most important water accords in the history of the Southwest and a major achievement for enhancing San Diego County’s water security – the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. Supplies related to the multi-party pact now account for nearly 30 percent of our region’s water, and they will continue to grow in the years ahead.

Resolution commemorating the tenth anniversary of the landmark Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003. The agreement – known as the QSA – is a cornerstone of the Water Authority’s water supply diversification strategy. It provides unprecedented access to highly reliable water supplies that help fuel our economy and protect the region from devastating water shortages. To view the resolution language, click on image above.

The QSA encompasses almost three dozen individual agreements that created far-reaching benefits by fundamentally changing the way Colorado River water is used in California. For San Diego County, the accord provides unprecedented access to highly reliable water supplies that help fuel our economy and protect the region from devastating water shortages. For the state of California, it created a framework for living within its basic annual apportionment of water from the Colorado River. Reducing California’s overdependence on the river has fostered greater collaboration on water issues across the Colorado River Basin.

In 2013, the San Diego region will receive approximately 180,000 acre-feet of water from QSA-related sources – a conservation-and-transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District and water conserved by lining earthen portions of the All-American and Coachella canals. The schedule for water deliveries is ramping up so that by 2021, the Water Authority will receive 280,000 acre-feet of water from these sources combined each year. That’s enough to serve more than a half-million typical families of four each year and meet roughly a third of the region’s water demand in 2020. The water transfer with IID will last up to 75 years, and the canal lining transfers will last 110 years.

Water agency representatives gathered at Hoover Dam on Oct. 16, 2003, to launch the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA. Front, seated: Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior Back (l to r): Maureen Stapleton (Water Authority General Manager), Bernie Rhinerson (Water Authority Board Chair), Gray Davis (Governor of California), John "Jack" McFadden (Coachella Valley Water District, Board President), Steve Robbins (Coachella Valley Water District, General Manager-Chief Engineer), Lloyd Allen (Imperial Irrigation District, Board Member), Michael J. Spear (Interim Director of the California Department of Water Resources), Bennett Raley (Director of the Bureau of Reclamation), Ron Gastelum (MWD General Manager), Glen Peterson Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board of Directors).

The Colorado River transfers are a cornerstone of the Water Authority’s supply diversification plan, which also includes water conservation, recycling, groundwater, surface water, and seawater desalination. The strategy was created after the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California slashed deliveries to San Diego County by 31 percent in 1991-92. By securing independent supplies from the Colorado River, the Water Authority can better mitigate shortages from other sources. Between 2009 and 2011, the Colorado River water transfers helped the Water Authority reduce the impact of MWD delivery reductions by 40 percent.

Colorado River Water Transfers 2003-2021

San Diego County not only will benefit from the increased quantity of independent Colorado River water, but also from the senior water rights held by IID that make the transfer water more reliable than imported water from the Metropolitan Water District.  Because the transfer water is not purchased through MWD, these supplies also will not be cut back if drought or regulatory restrictions prompt MWD to reduce its deliveries.

In addition, the Water Authority will benefit from the price stability afforded by the transfers. While those supplies currently are more expensive than imported water from MWD, MWD’s rates have increased dramatically and unpredictably in recent years, while the cost of the Colorado River water transfers are governed by contractual limits that gives the region greater cost certainty over time.


Water Authority Sources of Supply FY2013


White Paper: Quantification Settlement Agreement

Water Authority Supply Overview

Fact Sheets

Quantification Settlement Agreement

Lining the Coachella Canal

Canal Lining Projects

Colorado River Water Transfer Agreements

Selected QSA Documents

Quantification Settlement Agreement - October 10, 2003

Fifth Amendment to Agreement Between Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority for Transfer of Conserved

Revised Fourth Amendment to Agreement Between Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority for Transfer of Conserved Water

QSA Joint Powers Authority Creation and Funding Agreement Among the California Department of Fish and Game, Coachella Valley Water District, IID, and SDCWA

Environmental Cost Sharing, Funding and Habitat Conservation Plan Development Agreement Among CVWD, IID, and SDCWA

Conservation Agreement Among the Bureau of Reclamation, IID, CVWD, and SDCWA

Court Proceedings

Approximately a dozen of the nearly three dozen agreements that comprise the QSA have been the subject of several legal challenges, and to date it has withstood those challenges. In December 2011, California’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld the QSA against allegations that it violated the California Constitution and certain statutes.  After rejecting the challenges, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to decide remaining issues, including whether the QSA  was properly reviewed under California Environmental Quality Act.  In July 2013, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly rejected the remaining legal challenges. Appeals of elements of Connelly’s ruling have been filed and are working their way through the courts.  A federal court challenge was also rejected by the district court, but that decision is also pending appellate review. The water transfers and other activities contemplated by the QSA have continued throughout the course of the legal challenges.

QSA Judgments - July 31, 2013

QSA Ruling - June 4, 2013