Water is power in California’s Imperial Valley, and a years-long fight over allocations from the Colorado River to the agriculture-heavy region landed back in court on Friday. Attorneys representing local farmers and the Imperial Irrigation District squared off in front of a three-judge panel at the state appellate court level over a water-rights lawsuit expected to be decided in 90 days.
The Colorado River’s average annual flow has declined by nearly 20 percent compared to the last century, and now a new study has identified one of the main culprits: Climate change is causing mountain snowpack to disappear, leading to increased evaporation.
Four recent studies have found that up to half of the drop in the Colorado’s average annual flow since 2000 has been driven by warmer temperatures. Now, two U.S. Geological Survey researchers have concluded that much of this climate-induced decline — amounting to 1.5 billion tons of missing water, equal to the annual water consumption of 10 million Americans — comes from the fact that the region’s snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier. Having less snow to reflect heat from the sun, known as the albedo effect, creates a feedback loop, they say.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors visited the Imperial Valley January 30 for a day-long tour that highlighted areas critical to the agency’s Regional Conveyance System Study.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — States in the U.S. West that have agreed to begin taking less water next month from the drought-stricken Colorado River got praise and a push for more action Thursday from the nation’s top water official.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required.
The river supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry.
As climate change continues to sap the Colorado River’s water, some users face serious legal risks to their supplies, according to a new analysis by researchers in Colorado and New Mexico.
Declining flows could force Southwest water managers to confront long-standing legal uncertainties, and threaten the water security of Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors last week approved a contract to study the viability of a new regional water conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and provide multiple benefits across the Southwest.
The $1.9 million contract was awarded to Black & Veatch Corporation for a two-phase study. The engineering firm conducted similar studies for the Water Authority dating back to 1996 but looked at “single use” in those studies.
“A regional system to move our independent Colorado River supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego County could be more cost-effective, while also providing multiple benefits for California and the Southwest,” said Kelly Rodgers, director of the Water Authority’s Colorado River Program. “The study will assess the potential for new regional and public-private partnerships and funding opportunities.”
Three potential pipeline routes studied
The Water Authority currently pays the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transport Quantification Settlement Agreement water through the Colorado River Aqueduct to San Diego.
The pipeline under study would be designed at a capacity to convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. The current Water Transfer Agreement between the Imperial Irrigation District and the Water Authority continues to 2047. But both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077.
Three potential routes for the pipeline will be considered as part of an initial screening of the alternatives during the first phase of the study. The study will also consider elements such as permit and environmental regulations, and risk, cost and economic analysis.
Phase 1 of regional water system study will take one year
The first phase of the study, projected to cost $1.3 million, is expected to be completed in summer 2020. The Board will then determine whether to go forward with phase 2 of the study.
Pending Board approval, the second phase will include the final screening of alternatives based on refinement of site layouts, pipeline alignment and tunneling requirements, and risk, cost and economic analysis. The second phase will cost $590,00 and is expected to take one year to complete.
The Board previously approved funds for this study at its June 27 meeting.
Conveyance routes would connect to All-American Canal
As the study gets underway, there are three routes under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley.
Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling through the mountains. Both routes would end at the San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside.
The third and northernmost route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow past Borrego Springs, and through the mountains. It would eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.
The pipeline system is one of a handful of visionary ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.
State and federal dignitaries praised retiring San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton today for decades of public service and her achievements in securing safe and reliable water supplies for the region.
Stapleton announced her retirement from the Water Authority earlier this month, prompting several commendations during the Water Authority Board of Directors regular February meeting.
California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a letter that she valued Stapleton’s expertise on water issues. “During your more than 40 years of public service, you have demonstrated a deep commitment to your profession and the region,” wrote Feinstein. “Under your skilled leadership, the Water Authority successfully developed water storage and conservation projects and oversaw construction of the nation’s largest desalination plant.
“Although your presence will be greatly missed, I am confident that your record of hard work and dedication will serve as a model for those who follow in your footsteps.”
Historic investments for San Diego
In a California legislative resolution, elected leaders representing San Diego County lauded Stapleton “for her long and distinguished record of professional service and for her outstanding civic leadership.”
The resolution highlighted Stapleton’s many achievements over 23 years at the helm of the Water Authority, including successfully negotiating the landmark 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. It is the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water conservation-and-transfer agreement, and it remains a cornerstone of water management in the Southwest.
“As General Manager, Maureen Stapleton oversaw the greatest investment in large-scale regional water infrastructure in San Diego County history, including the first major new dam and reservoir in 50 years and the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant – an investment that provides significant protections for the San Diego region in the event of imported water supply emergencies and droughts.”
Under Stapleton’s guidance, the Water Authority also implemented cutting-edge urban water conservation programs that have helped to reduce per capita water use in the San Diego region by more than 40 percent since 1990. The Water Authority also significantly increased water supply protections for the region during droughts or other emergencies with $3.5 billion in investments. And, the Water Authority partnered with Poseidon Water to develop the largest seawater desalination plant in the nation.
‘She refused to suffer drought’
Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who was in office during peak drought years in the early 1990s, highlighted Stapleton’s leadership during that time to create a safe, stable and reliable water supply for the region.
“The history of San Diego has always been about the struggle to create an adequate and reliable water supply,” Wilson said. “But today, that story has a new chapter, written by Maureen and her team at the Water Authority. Their success in building a highly reliable water supply that fuels San Diego’s robust economy and supports a quality of life envied the world over has been nothing short of remarkable and historic. She refused to just suffer drought.”
See a video greeting to Stapleton from former California Gov. Pete Wilson.
San Diego Rep. Scott Peters honored Stapleton with a Congressional Proclamation on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives and the constituents of the 52nd Congressional District “for her lifelong contributions, exemplary leadership, and service to the San Diego region.”
The proclamation said: “She led a successful, multi-decade strategy to diversify and improve the reliability of San Diego County’s water supply, which now supports at $220 billion economy and the qualify of life for 3.3 million people; she transformed the Water Authority into a pioneering, visionary, agile, and driven public agency; and she has been a pillar of San Diego civic life for decades through service on several boards and foundations.”
After 23 years at the helm of the San Diego region’s wholesale water agency, General Manager Maureen Stapleton is stepping down – and leaving an enormous legacy.
“The positive impact of Maureen’s leadership of the Water Authority and management of this region’s water supply cannot be overstated,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “She has also been an important leader in our civic affairs for three decades and has dedicated countless hours to the betterment of our entire region. She will be greatly missed.
“Her name is synonymous with water in San Diego – for good reason,” Madaffer said. “Since 1996, Maureen has guided a dynamic agency that continues aggressively developing a comprehensive array of water supply and infrastructure projects designed to diversify the region’s water resources and improve the region’s water supply reliability.”
Stapleton announced her plans today to the Board of Directors and staff. Upon Stapleton’s departure, Deputy General Manager Sandy Kerl, who has more than 25 years of experience in public administration including a decade at the Water Authority, will be the acting general manager while a search for the Water Authority’s next general manager is under way.
“The success of the Water Authority over the past two decades is testament to the vision of the Board of Directors, the passionate commitment and dedication of the Water Authority’s staff and management team, the partnership we forged with our 24 member agencies, and the unwavering support of the San Diego region’s civic leaders,” Stapleton said. “I am immensely proud of our shared accomplishments, and I will greatly miss my Water Authority colleagues and esprit de corps we shared carrying out the Water Authority’s mission to provide our region with a safe and reliable water supply.”
‘Instrumental in the growth and development of our region’
Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, now President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, called Stapleton “instrumental in the growth and development of our region. Under Maureen’s leadership, the Water Authority has helped propel San Diego’s economy by ensuring our region has a diversified, highly reliable water supply – and the infrastructure system needed to produce and treat water, store it, and deliver it to millions of San Diegans.”
Stapleton’s career includes many milestones, including successfully negotiation the landmark 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, the nation’s largest farm-to-urban water conservation-and-transfer agreement that remains a cornerstone of water management in the Southwest.
Under her guidance, the Water Authority implemented cutting-edge urban water conservation programs that have helped to reduce per capita water use in the San Diego region by more than 40 percent since 1990.
In 2013, the Water Authority won the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ Platinum Award for Utility Excellence, the organization’s highest honor for outstanding achievement in implementing nationally recognized best practices for effective utility management. Three years later, AMWA bestowed its Sustainable Water Utility Management Award on the Water Authority, saying the agency’s “sustainability mindset saves ratepayers money, reduces the environmental impacts of projects and operations, conserves energy and water, and helps the agency thrive in a changing climate.”
Agency mission and projects continue to move ahead
In 2017, the Association of California Water Agencies presented the Water Authority with the Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence for innovation and excellence in water resources management with its addition of supplies from the Carlsbad Desalination Project – the largest seawater desalination plant in the Americas.
The same year, the Water Authority won the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award – the top international engineering award – for having the foresight and dedication to build the Emergency & Carryover Storage Project. That $1.5 billion system of dams, reservoirs, pump stations, pipelines and tunnels, to protect the region’s 3.3 million people and $220 billion economy from extended dry periods or emergencies that could disrupt imported water deliveries.
Said Madaffer: “While Maureen’s departure will leave a significant hole, I’m confident in the leadership team that we have assembled both on the Board of Directors at the senior staff level so that the important work of the Water Authority will continue with the same diligence as it has for decades.”