Metropolitan Water District Strikes Deal With Sacramento Farmers

While local, state and federal agencies battle each other in an attempt to bring Colorado River water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego, the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles has worked out accords with Sacramento Valley rice farmers to transfer 97,200 acre-feet to parched Southern California.

Bob Muir, MWD spokesman, said while it is impossible to tell how much of this water might be headed here, it all goes to support reliability throughout MWD's 26-member agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority. "It helps augment the water supply," he said.

Muir explained that while he expects some of the water will be headed to San Diego, just how much will not only depend on where it is needed, but on the proper mixture of the Northern California water, which tends to be high in organics, versus the Colorado River water, which tends to be high in salts. If either gets too high, it renders the water too costly to treat.

The 92,200 acre-feet is enough water to supply 184,400 families of four for a year.

In what MWD hopes will be just the first round of one-year options, the 31 billion gallons of water from Sacramento was made available by idling rice acreage this year in three irrigation districts.

"These one-year transfer options will go a long way to ensure urban Southern California's economy has dependable water supplies this year, while providing the local agricultural economies with a much-needed boost," said Metropolitan chairman Phillip J. Pace.

"Today's action also helps build on the positive relationship that urban Southern California has forged with Sacramento Valley water interests over the past few years," Pace continued. "Hopefully, it provides another constructive example of the mutual benefits that both Northern and Southern California can achieve through a productive, long-term relationship."

In exercising the three options from the irrigation districts, MWD will receive 60,000 acre-feet from one, 20,000 acre-feet from another and 17,200 acre-feet from the third. Transferred water will be made available to MWD during the rice-growing season, primarily May through September.

Unlike the Imperial Irrigation District, where a multiyear agreement that was ultimately approved by that board met with a flood of opposition, the Sacramento Valley water districts seem much more receptive.

"Metropolitan's decision to call on this water will infuse nearly $10 million into the valley's agricultural economy," said Van Tenney, general manager of Glenn-Colusa, one of the districts. "Our participation adds to Glenn-Colusa's practice of making significant amounts of water available to meet local needs."

Muir said that these accords have proven easier to negotiate because they are only single-year agreements, versus decades for the IID transfer; and they haven't had to deal with the survival of the Salton Sea.

The Northern California transfers are among numerous one-year option agreements authorized by MWD's board of directors to purchase up to 205,000 acre-feet from Sacramento Valley water districts this year.

MWD's action coincides with the California Department of Water Resources' announcement that the state will maintain its earlier allocation of State Water Project supplies at 45 percent of the project contractors' entitlements.

Ronald R. Gastelum, MWD's chief executive officer, said the Sacramento Valley transfers will help make up the shortfall if the state allocation remains low. The district also plans to access 135,000 acre-feet of stored water carried over from last year in San Luis Reservoir and pull as much as another 250,000 acre-feet from groundwater storage and banks throughout Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

"Our decision to exercise these transfer options underscores the types of short- and long-term investments urban Southern California has made over the past decade to diversify and stretch its portfolio of water management options, which will allow the district to meet all of its demands for imported water in 2003 and 2004," Gastelum said.

San Diego Daily Transcript

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