Southern California’s powerful Imperial Irrigation District voted late Tuesday 3-2 to ink an agreement with federal and state officials that could yield as much as $250 million for Salton Sea restoration projects in exchange for not using another 250,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. An acre-foot is enough to supply about two households.
As the Colorado River water crisis deepens amid withering drought in the West, Imperial Valley growers with historic rights to water from the river are making calculations on whether to farm or fallow.
This month, the Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies Colorado River water to farmers in America’s largest growing region for winter vegetables, joined other California water agencies in offering to take a dramatic cut in the amount of water they pull from the river.
Collaboration among all water users is key to developing solutions for the Colorado River Basin, which is in the midst of a 22-year megadrought. That was one of the common themes during a webinar Thursday, in which water managers and other officials discussed ways to slow or stabilize the rate of decline of the major source of water for seven states and Mexico.
With the Colorado River in crisis and reservoir levels continuing to decline, California water agencies that depend on the river are planning to significantly reduce their use of water from the river starting next year. As a result, officials with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said they plan to endorse mandatory conservation measures next year to begin rationing water for cities and local agencies that supply 19 million people across six counties.
The Imperial Irrigation District board voted 3-0 Tuesday, Sept. 20 to save $24 million dollars by paying off the balance of the 2003 QSA JPA balance.
When the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) was signed in 2003, creating the largest rural to urban water transfer, another agreement came from that, the Joint Powers Authority Creation and Funding Agreement. The funds contributed to this second agreement would come from the three water districts involved in the QSA – the IID, the Coachella Valley Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority – along with the State of California.
Water cuts could be coming to the Golden State.
“Right now there are currently no cuts in California, however, it’s being discussed,” said Robert Schettler, Public Information Officer for the Imperial Irrigation District.
California is negotiating whether or not to voluntarily conserve hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water due to the drought that’s stressing the Colorado River and its reservoir – Lake Mead.
When Don Cox was looking for a reliable place to build a family farm in the 1950s, he settled on California’s Imperial Valley.
The desert region had high priority water rights, meaning its access to water was hard for anyone to take away.
“He had it on his mind that water rights were very, very important,” said his grandson, Thomas Cox, who now farms in the Valley.
Southern California water districts are grappling with what the fallout could look like if supplies from a critical source — the rapidly drying Colorado River — are cut next year.
The US Bureau of Reclamation warned at a U.S. Senate hearing in mid-June that seven western states had 60 days to voluntarily reach a deal: Cut Colorado River water use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet in 2023 or face federally-mandated cuts instead. It’s a massive amount — at least seven times more than Nevada is entitled to in a year.
Aug. 16, 2022 – Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month projection for water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation is a reminder of just how important it is to increase water conservation across San Diego County and the rest of the arid West. An increasingly hot and dry climate is creating unprecedented challenges for water supplies that will impact life in the Southwest for the foreseeable future.
“The San Diego County Water Authority continues to participate in discussions about the future of the Colorado River. We also continue to highlight the value of the conserved water transfer agreement between the Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District, the cornerstone of the landmark Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA, negotiated in 2003, as well as our investments in concrete lining sections of the All-American and Coachella Canals to conserve water previously lost to seepage. Through the QSA, the Water Authority funds critical conservation efforts in the Imperial Valley that provide the San Diego County region 277,700 acre-feet of highly reliable, cost-effective conserved water supplies each year. Further, the QSA enables California to live within its historic 4.4-million-acre-foot annual Colorado River apportionment while providing a roadmap for current efforts to balance the complex economic, agriculture, environmental, most notably the Salton Sea, and water-use needs in the Colorado River Basin.
“The Water Authority has not been asked to make any voluntary reductions to Colorado River water supplied by IID under Reclamation’s call for additional basin-wide conservation. If cuts were deemed mandatory to IID through an official Secretarial declared shortage to Priority 3 water in California, the Water Authority would take a pro-rata reduction of its IID transfer supplies.
“Investments by San Diego County residents in other water sources and storage facilities will continue to shield the region from the worst effects of the drought. At the same time, the potential for mandated water-use reductions should inspire every San Diegan to decrease their water use, for instance, by taking shorter showers, reducing irrigation of decorative grass, and upgrading to efficient appliances.”
— Sandra L. Kerl, General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority
Two months ago, federal officials took the unprecedented step of telling the seven states that depend on Colorado River water to prepare for emergency cuts next year to prevent reservoirs from dropping to dangerously low levels.
The states and managers of affected water agencies were told to come up with plans to reduce water use drastically, by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, by mid-August.