GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Water transfer from Imperial to San Diego faces new legal challenges

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 10, 2009

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Lower Otay reservoir and dam

A Superior Court lawsuit filed yesterday (Monday) in Sacramento adds to the pressure from a legal challenge filed last month in federal court over the San Diego/Imperial water transfer agreement, which already has been controversial and subject to previous lawsuits.

In 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) signed a water transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) in order to bolster supplies in the face of increasing demand and disappearing surplus Colorado River water it had relied on. According to SDCWA’s Fact Sheet the transfer started in 2003 at 10,000 acre-feet of water and was intended to eventually move up to 200,000 acre-feet (AF) of water per year to San Diego County, plus another 77,700 AF per year drawn from conserved water that would result from the lining of the All-American and Coachella canals which were losing water to seepage.

The federal lawsuit filed Oct. 9 by the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District and the county of Imperial seeks to stop water transfers until guarantees to meet air quality laws, among other demands, are satisfied. The second lawsuit filed yesterday challenges the water agencies’ legal authority to enter into the deal and also concerns environmental issues. The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and Coachella Valley Water Department (CVWD) were also parties to the transfer agreement and would be affected by these lawsuits.

SaltonSea10Small

Salton Sea

The environmental concerns relate to reduced agricultural runoff into the Salton Sea which results in a lower water level exposing polluted shoreline soil that dries out and scatters as dust in the wind, harming air quality in the valley. Salton Sea water quality, effect on wildlife, and other environmental concerns are also at issue.

I don’t know how the lawsuits might address opposition from farmers and other residents who fear the effects less water would have on their economic well-being and quality-of-life.

Filing the lawsuit at the federal level adds the involvement of the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation as well.

One thing seems sure: with our increasing demand on limited water resources, transfers between agricultural and urban agencies are increasingly attractive, especially when some 80% of California’s water is used by agriculture, and much of that is invested in high water use crops like alfalfa, rice, and cotton–not necessarily the best economic use for the water–and Colorado River surplus water that we previously had temporary access to is no longer surplus. Indeed, another transfer for San Diego is underway: CWA is aquiring 20,000 AF from Placer County near Sacramento under an existing one-year agreement. Perhaps such transfers will give us needed time to exercise more restraint in urban expansion and population growth without having to resort to more drastic rationing measures. I hope so.

[Two links added Nov 12]

Former IID director, Imperial County supervisor clash over QSA suit
http://www.ivpressonline.com/articles/2009/11/12/local_news/news04.txt

A Reader Writes: Wrong lawsuit, wrong valley
http://www.ivpressonline.com/articles/2009/11/12/our_opinion/ed01_11-12-09.txt

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Additional information sources:

Mydesert.com announcement of lawsuit
http://www.mydesert.com/article/20091109/NEWS0701/911090308/1006/news01

Colorado River Water Transfer Agreement
http://www.sdcwa.org/manage/pdf/WaterTransfer.pdf

CWA documentation on the QSA (aka Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement)
http://www.sdcwa.org/manage/mwd-QSA.phtml

IID documentation on the QSA
http://www.iid.com/Water/QSAWaterTransfer

CVWD documentation on the QSA
http://www.cvwd.org/search.php?cx=002342321204791076250%3Al4cbqu3ehrk&cof=FORID%3A11&q=qsa&x=0&y=0#1155

Why the county is in court / Antonio Rossman, reader viewpoint, in IVPressOnline
http://www.ivpressonline.com/articles/2009/11/07/our_opinion/ed01_11-07-09.txt

Imperial County, Air Pollution Control District’s federal lawsuit challenges Imperial Irrigation District water transfer / David Steffen in IVPressOnline
http://www.ivpressonline.com/articles/2009/10/17/local_news/news03.txt

More lawsuits, more money / Opinion, IVPressOnline
http://www.ivpressonline.com/articles/2009/10/20/our_opinion/ed02-10-20-09.txt

Bruvold: the professor’s off a bit / VoiceOfSanDiego
http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2009/10/27/cafesandiego/593bruvoldii102609.txt

UC 2003 report on controversy surrounding the agreement
http://igs.berkeley.edu/library/htImperialWaterTransfer2003.html

Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Program Environmental Impact Report
http://www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov/PEIR/

Salton Sea Coalition report
http://saltonseacoalition.org/pages/thesaltonsea.cgi

California Resources Agency report on Salton Sea ecosystem restoration
http://www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov/docs/AQFact.pdf

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