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With an extended drought draining Colorado River reservoirs and sapping the availability of surplus water, Metropolitan Water District's officials today proposed new terms that could break a long-standing impasse among the parties working to finalize a California plan for sharing river water.
In meetings in Sacramento, Metropolitan representatives presented a two-page resolution and motion adopted Tuesday by MWD's board of directors that direct the district to continue working toward a statewide agreement, but draw a line on the costs 18 million Southern Californians would shoulder to pay for environmental impacts from proposed water transfers by the Imperial Irrigation District.
"Metropolitan understands the value of reaching a Colorado River agreement," said MWD Chairman Phillip J. Pace. "However, we realize that four years of drought have eliminated much of the storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and that even if the Interior Department restored California's access to surplus water, there would be little, if any, surplus available for years to come."
As part of Tuesday's motion, the board also adopted recommendations offered by the board's seven-member negotiating committee, including the insistence that the three parties to the water transfer between the Imperial and San Diego County Water Authority, including Coachella Valley Water District, pay the full costs of the environmental impacts caused by their transfer.
"The only way California will be able to establish and maintain a fair and balanced water market is for the parties involved in each transfer to be responsible for the costs of their own deal, without subsidies from third parties or the state," said Pace, who chairs the MWD board's negotiating committee.
The action comes after IID, San Diego and Coachella rejected a state proposal that would have paid for the transfer's environmental impacts through a user fee charged to each agency for every acre-foot of Colorado River water received.
Under today's action, Metropolitan offers to buy all additional water that Imperial recently proposed to conserve and sell to the state, beyond the IID-San Diego transfer, if the state assumed liability for a plan to restore the Salton Sea. Metropolitan proposes to pay $250 per acre-foot for any additional water IID conserves, with the proceeds from that sale going to help pay for the sea's restoration and environmental impacts to the Colorado River ecosystem.
If the state and water agencies fail to finalize a California plan for the Colorado River, Metropolitan proposes to place into a Salton Sea escrow account $100 for every acre-foot of water made available to the district as a result of any effective determination of wasteful water practices in the Imperial Valley. Another $5 per acre-foot would be placed in an account to address any third-party impacts in the Imperial Valley.
When an intra-state, river-sharing agreement is completed, Metropolitan's board would execute the federal agreement announced last week. Under that proposal, the federal government would terminate its examination of Imperial's irrigation practices, and IID would drop its lawsuit against the federal government.
The resolution maintains that, even if the federal government reinstates surplus Colorado River deliveries to California, urban Southern California should forgo those extra supplies until storage levels along the river improve.