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Milestone Colorado River Management Plan Mostly Worked Amid Epic Drought, Review Finds

Twenty years ago, the Colorado River Basin’s hydrology turned persistently dry, reservoir levels plummeted and a river system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across the West was in trouble. So key players across the Basin attacked the problem. The result was a set of Interim Guidelines adopted in 2007 that, according to a just-released assessment, mostly worked to prevent forced water supply cuts. With the guidelines expiring in 2026, that assessment is expected to aid discussions as key players begin writing a new set of river operating rules.

Rep. Ruiz Introduces Salton Sea Bill in Congress to Provide Funding, Increase Air Quality Requirements

Southern California Democrats Rep. Raul Ruiz and Rep. Juan Vargas introduced a new bill on Thursday that would force the federal government to take a more active role in funding and managing Salton Sea habitat restoration and dust suppression.

HR 8775, the Salton Sea Public Health and Environmental Protection Act, would create an interagency working group called the Salton Sea Management Council to coordinate projects around the lake’s receding shoreline.

Colorado River Users Expect Biden to Put Focus on Climate Change

The incoming Biden administration will lead efforts to craft a new water-management regime for the seven-state Colorado River Basin, and people involved in the process expect any changes to reflect the impact of climate change in the basin.

The Bureau of Reclamation, under the Interior Department, will lead negotiations to replace 13-year-old interim guidelines used to operate the basin’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Interior secretary also manages the lower basin, containing all the water below Hoover Dam.

Revisions should reflect ecological values, water rights of American Indian tribes, and the need for more conservation measures by users in the seven states—Arizona, California and Nevada in the lower basin and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the upper basin, those involved in the process said.

Regional Conveyance System Study-Phase B-November 2020

Board Approves Next Phase of Regional Water Conveyance System Study

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.

The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County.

Over the next 15 to 18 months, Water Authority staff will undertake Phase B, focusing on economic analysis of the two conveyance route alternatives and exploring partnerships that could provide significant benefits to an array of stakeholders and potentially reduce the cost of project development. At the end of Phase B, the 36-member Board will again decide whether to continue with regional conveyance project planning – and if so, how to proceed.

Long-term planning

“These issues are complex and the decisions never easy, but the Board chose today to keep all water supply and delivery options on the table in light of future uncertainties,” said Gary Croucher, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “I look forward to learning from Phase B and working with the Board to decide on next steps when that study phase is done. We also look forward to working with MWD in coming months to explore long-term options for continued use of its Colorado River Aqueduct.”

The Water Authority is the long-term water planning agency for metropolitan San Diego County and the region’s wholesale water provider, serving 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy in partnership with its 24 retail member agencies.

Half of the Water Authority’s supplies are from two landmark 2003 water conservation agreements – one that boosted water-use efficiency in collaboration with the Imperial Irrigation District and another to line sections of the All-American and Coachella canals with concrete to reduce seepage. Both agreements are part of the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, the largest ag-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history.

Water supply reliability

Conserved water from the QSA is transferred to San Diego County through an Exchange Agreement with the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. MWD owns the only facilities available to transport Colorado River water to San Diego County. The cost of using MWD facilities to deliver the Water Authority’s QSA water has increased 30% over the past five years alone.

The Water Authority’s Exchange Agreement with MWD ends in 2047, and the Water Authority is working to develop conveyance alternatives in order to manage future cost and risks.

“While 2047 may seem distant, major water infrastructure projects take decades to develop, plan and build,” said Croucher. “By advancing to Phase B of the conveyance study, the Water Authority is taking prudent steps to ensure long-term water supply reliability for the region.”

In order to address the cost and risk uncertainties associated with the use of MWD facilities, the Water Authority’s Board in June 2019 approved a study of the viability of a new regional conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and also might provide multiple benefits across the Southwest. Three potential pipeline routes were studied in Phase A, which concluded in August 2020 that two alternatives (3A and 5A) are cost-competitive with other options, such as continued use of MWD facilities.

Water Authority staff and consultants began in August an extensive series of briefings and outreach on Phase A results and consultant reports. The Board’s goal was to ensure a full exchange of information and viewpoints in a transparent process. Outreach across numerous platforms engaged member agencies, other local stakeholders, the Imperial Valley, and Borrego Springs.

Partnership opportunities

With today’s Board vote to approve Phase B, Water Authority staff will focus for the next several months on economics, partnerships, legal analysis, and stakeholder outreach. Phase B will help address questions about mitigating short-term rate impacts of a project, the benefits of  potential partnerships and funding opportunities, developing a plan of finance and the requirements of existing agreements, as well as explore with MWD options for long-term water deliveries to the San Diego region using MWD facilities.

 MWD issues to be addressed will include analysis of:

  • Historic and projected future increases in MWD’s water rates and charges
  • MWD’s current planning assumptions
  • Costs and water yield of MWD’s current and planned projects
  • Future demand for MWD water
  • Other MWD rate drivers

Phase B will apply the same rigorous analysis to Water Authority rate and cost projections. Water Authority staff will also begin the process of engaging more formally with stakeholders on potential partnership projects identified in Phase A, including public-private-partnerships, bi-national projects, renewable energy projects, regional operational storage projects, Salton Sea-related projects, and partnerships with tribes, federal and state governments, and member agencies.

For more details, go to sdcwa.org/colorado-river-supplies-management.

Board Approves Next Phase of Regional Water Conveyance System Study

November 19, 2020 – The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.

The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County.

Why Understanding Snowpack Could Help the Overworked Colorado River

Forty million people, 5.5 million acres of farmland and the livelihood of residents in major metropolitan areas such as Salt Lake City, Denver and Las Vegas depend on the Colorado River, described as the workhorse of the West and under assault by drought.

The U.S. Geological Survey is in the beginning stages of learning more about this river via an expanded and more sophisticated monitoring system that aims to study details about the snowpack that feeds the river basin, droughts and flooding, and how streamflow supports groundwater, or vice versa.

Imperial County Farmer Michael Abatti Looks to Take Fight with IID to U.S. Supreme Court

Having been turned away by the California Supreme Court last week, farmer Michael Abatti looked to have lost his years-long fight with the Imperial Irrigation District over who owns valuable water rights on the Colorado River. But Abatti apparently isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

In paperwork filed in a state appellate court Monday, Abatti’s legal team indicated that they wanted to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the matter.

Opinion: An Agreement to Sell Water is Not About Selling Water?

One of Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s most famous paintings depicts a tobacco pipe with cursive script below it reading, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which translated from French means, “This is not a pipe.”

Study: Water Use Dropping in Western Cities Even While Population Grows

Many western cities have been able to shrink their total water use in recent decades, even as their populations grew. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal Water last week. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with lead author Brian Richter about how simple water conservation measures could be a cost-effective way to combat shortages in the Colorado River Basin.

Opinion: Eastern Coachella Valley Residents Urge the State for Action on the Salton Sea

We represent a group of East Coachella Valley residents optimistic about the future of the Salton Sea and the surrounding communities. That is why we are working to ensure our communities see meaningful benefits from the sea’s restoration.

On Sept. 30, we sent a letter to state officials requesting that restoration projects coming out of the Salton Sea Management Program consider the potential impacts on nearby communities. We hope those officials will share in our vision of reforestation and green spaces around the Salton Sea, see the benefits of such projects in addressing the sea’s deteriorating environmental conditions, and act with the same urgency.