In 2021, thousands of trees, mostly willows, were planted in the 1,000 acre Managed Marsh wildlife habitat in northern Imperial County, with a total of 17,000 trees planted for the project. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Drought and Water Supply: A Year in Review

Drought and water supply in the Southwest U.S. dominated the water news in 2021, from the Colorado River Basin to California.

COVID-19 continued its grasp on all aspects of life in 2021. Even in the face of the pandemic, the work of providing water as an essential service continued for every agency with the responsibility of making sure their constituents have the water they need to sustain their communities, farms and businesses.

Drought: Shortage declaration on Lake Mead

This past year highlighted the challenges statewide and throughout the Colorado River Basin associated with providing that water service in the face of a twenty-year drought on the river, yet agencies continued to meet the demands for water. The critical story of 2021 on the Colorado River was the shortage declaration for the upcoming year on Lake Mead, the reservoir serving the river’s Lower Basin. A key element of this story is that while California is not affected by the current shortage declaration, the Lower Basin is moving forward with steps to try to protect the reservoir from further declarations. The effort to meet water needs is continuing with an eye toward finding resolutions to challenges and to address those challenges in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Water supply: Conserved Water Transfer Agreement

While the drought has been a dominating issue, there are several other critical water matters. An important water story this year was the ramping up of the Conserved Water Transfer Agreement between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego County Water Authority to its full allotment of 200,000 acre-feet per year. The water transfer, which is the cornerstone of the Quantification Settlement Agreement, is provided through a conservation program implemented in the Imperial Valley by IID and the Valley’s farming community and funded by the Water Authority. This water, coupled with 77,700 acre-feet from the lining of the All-American and Coachella Canals, remains an important supply of water for the San Diego community while providing the Valley the funding it needs to implement water conservation.

With the state moving forward with Phase I of its Salton Sea Management Program, there were positive steps toward restoration work at the Salton Sea in 2021. Additionally, the QSA Joint Powers Authority (JPA), made of up IID, SDCWA, the Coachella Valley Water District, and the state, continued its mitigation projects meant to address the specific environmental impacts of the QSA. While challenges continue at the sea, both the state’s restoration work and the separate but complimentary QSA JPA mitigation effort show the sea is a priority issue, and one where all involved will have to continue to monitor to make sure progress continues.

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A collage of photographs from the water-related issues covered in the water blog of the Imperial-San Diego Currents website and the Community Spotlight section of the site. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Share your stories

Look to this website for more community features as well as water stories in 2022, as there will likely be no shortage of stories to share. This site is meant to be a benefit to the community, so this writer would ask the community that if you have ideas for Community Spotlight stories in 2022, send a message either through this site or directly to the writer, Darren Simon, at . Likewise, if there are questions you have on water matters or would like to see a water-related issue addressed on this site, contact us through the site or the email provided above.

(Editor’s Note: Darren Simon posts stories featuring water issues in the Imperial Valley, the Colorado River Basin and San Diego County, on the website Imperial-San Diego Currents: