An agreement between San Diego’s major water agency and two others in Southern California is expected to save millions of dollars and conserve millions of gallons of water in the Colorado River, which has been threatened by years of overuse and drought.
Water is life. It’s also big business. In our November + December 2023 issue, Mother Jones dives into the West’s deepening water crisis—and the forces behind it, from historic drought to short-sighted policies to corrupt lawmakers and the special interests they serve.
In a pivotal move addressing California’s water conservation goals and reinforcing partnerships in the face of the ongoing Colorado River drought, the Metropolitan Water District is seeking authorization for its General Manager to establish agreements with the Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, and San Diego County Water Authority. These agreements aim to facilitate the addition of water to Lake Mead under the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program for the year 2023.
The Department of Interior has indicated that if states don’t cooperate on dividing Colorado River water, more cuts may be on the way.
The agency indicated that California could also face cutbacks, which means that the state’s wait-and-see strategy may have fallen short.
California has senior water rights to the Colorado River, and so far, that has worked in its favor.
It’s an arcane system of water law that dates back to the birth of California — an era when 49ers used sluice boxes and water cannons to scour gold from Sierra Nevada foothills and when the state government promoted the extermination of Native people to make way for white settlers.
Today, this antiquated system of water rights still governs the use of the state’s supplies, but it is now drawing scrutiny like never before.
Drought and population growth have taken their toll on the Colorado River, pushing it to historic lows.
As we work together with our neighboring states and the federal government on a long-term solution, many eyes are focused on the Imperial Valley, because of its senior water rights. And as much as we believe in upholding the rule of law, we are equally committed to being responsible water users and doing our part to keep the river healthy enough to meet the needs of all seven states.
(Editor’s Note: Stephen Benson is a farmer in California’s Imperial Valley, a board member of Imperial Valley Water (IVH2O), former board member of the Imperial Irrigation District and a current board member of the Family Farm Alliance and Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association. He can be reached at
The Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Robert Bonnie, privately met with the Imperial Irrigation District. The meeting started at 4:00pm Sunday and took place in El Centro.
During the meeting, Bonnie and the IID discussed the Western Water Policy and irrigation assistance to southeastern California farmers and ranchers.
Sandy Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority said that investing in reservoir capacity was key after the county suffered a crippling drought in the late ‘80s. “We now have enough storage capacity…to sustain the population at a 75% service level for six months,” she said.
Kerl made the comment during the PPIC Water Policy Center’s annual fall conference in Sacramento on November 18.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom released his water supply strategy, which is designed to address California’s warming climate and increasing drought intensity. Central to this strategy is expanding storage to capture water during wet periods and to help urban and agricultural users make it through dry times.
But why stop there? What about storing water for the environment?
The question persists even though it shouldn’t: Can California conserve its way out of this drought?
The answer is clearly no. But then again, if water policy in California were as clear as water itself, Jake Gittes would never have been told to “forget it.”