SAN DIEGO --Officials from the San Diego County Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) have signed an historic water conservation and transfer agreement that will benefit California and San Diego and Imperial counties, and advance Western water policy. The agreement, believed to be the largest water transfer in United States history, allows San Diego County to receive up to 200,000 acre-feet of water conserved by the Imperial Irrigation District each year.
The contract signing followed approval of the agreement by the boards of directors of both public agencies.
For San Diego county, the landmark agreement will result in a long-term, more reliable water supply at a competitive price. As such, the transfer agreement will also protect the region's $87 billion economy from threats posed by drought and other prolonged water supply shortages. For the Imperial Valley, the water transfer will protect the area's water rights, bolster the local economy, and provide for affordable conservation without land fallowing.
"The signing of this historic agreement heralds a new era of water supply reliability in the San Diego region," said Chris Frahm, Chairwoman of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors. "In approving this water transfer contract, we have acted to ensure that San Diego County will have a safe, reliable water supply well into the next century."
Under the agreement's terms, IID would transfer conserved agricultural water to the Authority for at least 45 years Either party could extend the agreement by 30 years. Transfers would total 20,000 acre-feet during the first year and would increase annually in 20,000 acre-feet increments until they reached a minimum of 130,000 acre-feet or a maximum of 200,000 acre feet. If IID determines it can make additional water available through conservation, the two agencies may agree to transfer an additional 100,000 acre-feet a year, starting no sooner than 10 years after the start of deliveries.
"With this agreement, we are taking control of our own destiny and securing the future of the Imperial Valley," said Lloyd Allen, president of the IID Board of Directors. "Farming and agriculture-related businesses will remain the cornerstone of our community, our local economy will get a boost, and opportunities for future growth in the valley will be secured Most importantly, the valley's water rights, held in trust by IID, will be protected."
Under the terms of the agreement, the cost of water would be determined through a formula outlined in the contract The formula takes the price the Authority pays MWD for water plus other MWD rates and charges and subtracts the estimated price for transporting, or "wheeling," the transferred water through the Colorado River Aqueduct. Once that figure is determined, the price would be discounted. The discount is 25 percent the first year, declining gradually until stabilizing at 5 percent in year 17 of the agreement.
In addition, if the Authority experiences water shortages as defined in the agreement, the Authority will pay IID a "shortage performance premium."
The agreement provides for a "price redetermination" process through which the price may adjust to reflect the market value of IID water. The redetermination process would begin no sooner than 10 years after the start of deliveries, provided that an active California water market develops.
A number of contingencies must be satisfied before any water will be transferred to the Water Authority. The Authority must arrange for the conveyance of the water to San Diego; IID must meet specified targets for participation by its farmers; both agencies must be able to reasonably mitigate environmental impacts of the transfer; and necessary state and federal approval must be obtained. Once the contingencies are met, the water from IID will start to flow into San Diego County. The Authority estimates that could begin within three to five years.
By law, California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water each year. It regularly exceeds that amount by about 20 percent, with almost all the extra water going to the Metropolitan Water District. This has been a concern to San Diego -- which was faced with 50 percent water supply cutbacks during the last drought -- and is also a concern to other states that rely on Colorado River water. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has ordered California to develop a plan to live within its water entitlement. In response, the Colorado River Board of California, working with State Department of Water Resources Director David Kennedy, is developing the "California 4.4 Plan." The IID/SDCWA water conservation and transfer agreement is a cornerstone of the 4.4 Plan.
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