U.S. Water News Online
CORONADO, Calif. -- California will receive surplus water from states in the Colorado River basin under a deal signed recently that commits the state to improving its water conservation efforts.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt signed the accord during a ceremony attended by regional water officials on the shoreline of the Coronado peninsula, across from San Diego.
Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona, joked that he had made a political career of demonizing California and said he had learned that more could be accomplished by having the Western states work together.
The agreement, he said, ``reverses a century of trying to solve these water problems by going to war.''
The accord commits California to reduce its reliance on Colorado River water over the next 15 years, with the goal of reaching its allotment of 4.4 million acre feet per year.
The state routinely has exceeded its allotment of Colorado River water -- last year, using 5.3 million acre feet -- by receiving surplus water from Lake Mead in Nevada. The agreement guarantees that California will continue to receive surplus water through 2015 to meet the needs of its growing population.
Without the deal, California would have put its water supply in jeopardy and faced potentially costly litigation by the other six states in the river basin: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.
``This probably would have been the biggest interstate water litigation in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court,'' said Jim Lochhead, a Denver attorney who formerly served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
``By California being able to live within its means, that solidifies the allocation for Colorado and all of the other states.''
Babbitt said the deal would guarantee a stable water supply for the growth and development of Southern California.
``It's about the future for our kids. It's about jobs. It's about what this community is going to look like in another half of a century,'' he said. ``What this says is this resource will be available.''
Jim Turner, head of the San Diego County Water Authority's board of directors, said the agreement provided a ``soft-landing'' for California in its effort to reduce reliance on the Colorado River.
He praised the region's success in water conservation, noting that its water usage has held even over the last decade even though the county's population has grown from about 2.5 million to 2.9 million.
He credited consumer conservation efforts such as installing low-flush toilets and landscaping with plants native to the region's arid climate.
To increase water conservation over the next 15 years, regional authorities will consider other steps such as desalinating seawater and transferring water from elsewhere in California and out of state, he said.
As part of the accord, San Diego County also will purchase surplus
water from farmers in the Imperial Valley, east of San Diego, with
the money slated to pay for water conservation methods within the
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