San Diego Business Journal

Deadline Looms for S.D., Imperial Water Deal

BY LEE ZION
Staff Writer

San Diego could face a devastating water shortage if the state fails to meet a fast-approaching deadline.

If several water agencies fail to sign an agreement by Dec. 31, the entire state would lose access to 700,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River.

San Diego's share in that loss would be 200,000 acre-feet , a devastating blow to the local economy, said Eric Bruvold, vice president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

"If we were to face a drastic and immediate reduction in draw from the Colorado River, it would have a dramatic effect," he said. "First feeling the pinch would be our ($1.3 billion) agricultural industry in this region, probably followed soon by companies that use a large amount of water in their industrial processes, and which are already conserving water."

Eventually, every sector of the economy would be affected, he said.

San Diego County Water Authority, Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California had hammered out a complex water transfer agreement Oct. 15. However, the deal must be ratified by each agency's board of directors, and the IID has yet to ratify the deal.

The water transfer agreement is part of a larger deal known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement. Without the agreement signed by Dec. 31, the federal government will prohibit California from obtaining surplus water from the Colorado River , about 700,000 acre-feet, or 230 billion gallons annually.

IID will hold a public meeting Nov. 18 to discuss the issue. The water transfer agreement calls on IID to send 1.2 million-acre feet of water to San Diego over the next 15 years, at a cost of $258 per acre-foot. The price may change over time, said Imperial General Manager Ron Hull.

The controversy surrounding the water transfer centered on the "fallowing" provision, which makes the deal possible. For Imperial to send that much water here, while also continuing to supply water to the environmentally sensitive Salton Sea, Imperial Valley farmers would have to "fallow" their land, Hull said.

Fallowing, or taking land out of production, was not part of the original contract signed between San Diego and Imperial in 1998. Imperial Valley residents were concerned about job loss and other economic impacts of fallowing, he said.

Hull said under the new agreement, fallowing would be temporary and voluntary, while San Diego would pay up to $10 million to reimburse Imperial Valley residents for the economic burden. Still, these assurances aren't enough for many Imperial Valley residents, he said.

The meeting this week will invite additional public input. Also, Imperial's lawyers are looking over the language in the new agreement to make sure it doesn't depart too far from what was agreed to in October, Hull said.

Hull projects that the final draft will be done in time for the Imperial board to look at it Dec. 10. He did not discuss what might happen if the board became disappointed by the final draft , with the agreement deadline only three weeks away.

"The document has always been contingent on the agreements that we signed. And if they don't say what we thought they said in the final language then there'll have to be either some more negotiations," he said. "(We need) to get the language into the proper format that gives our board the protections that they think they need."

Hull also noted that other water agencies , San Diego, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Coachella Valley Water District , must also approve any changes Imperial might make. He added that state and federal agencies must then approve the deal, which he called the "wild card" in whether the agreement will be signed by Dec. 31.

Bob Campbell, executive assistant to the general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, was confident the deal could be completed by the deadline. He understands that the final draft of the deal will go before Imperial's board members in December.

"I think if they pull together, there's enough there for them to execute the QSA," he said.

Once the Imperial board ratifies the document, it then goes before several state and federal agencies for environmental review, Campbell said. The document requires the approval of the California Department of Fish and Game, the State Water Resources Control Board, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Bruvold, meanwhile, expects the deal will be completed in time.

"While Imperial hasn't signed the agreement yet, I think there are a lot of good things on the horizon, and some positive leadership in Imperial County, and I think we're moving closer and closer."


If Agreement Isn't Signed, State Stands to Lose Water

If the Quantitative Settlement Agreement isn't signed by Dec. 31, the state could lose up to 230 billion gallons of water next year.

In January 2001, the federal government mandated that California must reduce its annual draw from the Colorado River. Instead of its current annual use of 5.1 million acre-feet annually, it must reduce its draw to 4.4 million acre-feet a year , its historical allotment dating back to 1928.

However, California gets a 15-year cushion to gradually reduce its use, under an agreement worked out between the federal government, California and the six other states using the Colorado River. In order to get that cushion, the state must meet certain milestones.

One of these milestones is the Quantitative Settlement Agreement. If the agreement isn't signed by Dec. 31, the state would be forced down to 4.4 million acre-feet instantly. In effect, it would lose the 700,000 acre-feet overnight.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water; 700,000 acre-feet equals 230 billion gallons.

If California were to lose 700,000 acre-feet of water a year, San Diego's share in that loss would be 200,000 acre-feet. That's about one third of its annual supply, said Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager with the San Diego County Water Authority.


S.D. Begins Work on Point Loma Water Facility

San Diego broke ground on a new pumping station for Point Loma residents.

The new Catalina Water Pump Station will replace the existing Catalina facility. The older pump station was built in 1979 and is outdated, said Debbie Lowery, a spokeswoman for the city's Water Department.

Construction on the $5 million project began earlier this month; completion is expected by the spring of 2004. The project is funded by water rates, revenue bonds, capacity charges and a grant from the state of California, Lowery said.

The new pumping station will have four 200-horsepower vertical turbine pumps; each will be able to pump 3,000 gallons of water per minute, she said.