Metropolitan First California agency to approve agreement for Colorado River, Salton Sea

Metropolitan Water District Wednesday became the first California agency to endorse an agreement that clears the way for the state to proceed with a comprehensive plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water and help address Salton Sea environmental issues.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 24, 2003 -- Metropolitan Water District Wednesday became the first California agency to endorse an agreement that clears the way for the state to proceed with a comprehensive plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water and help address Salton Sea environmental issues.

During a special meeting, Metropolitan's board of directors authorized execution of the 75-year Quantification Settlement Agreement, which determines the amount of Colorado River water used by Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District, two key irrigation agencies that draw river water.

"Like those who came before us, we have the opportunity to add to California's water supply foundation," said MWD board Vice Chairman John V. Foley, who led today's board proceedings in Chairman Phillip J. Pace's absence.

The QSA -- comprising more than 50 separate documents, contracts and environmental reports -- opens the door for water transfers between agricultural agencies and urban water districts, including Metropolitan's proposed land management and crop rotation program with Palo Verde Irrigation District and long-term transfers between IID, the San Diego County Water Authority and Coachella.

The proposed agreement also provides up to $300 million for the restoration of the Salton Sea and the lower Colorado River under a cost-sharing arrangement between the water agencies and the state.

"To reach this point has been a long and difficult road, representing years of negotiations and false starts," said Foley, who serves on the MWD board's QSA negotiating committee. "However, through the agriculture-to-urban water transfers and local and regional projects envisioned under the QSA, we are providing added reliability and certainty to secure the economic and environmental well-being of California."

After more than seven years of discussion and disagreement, Metropolitan Chief Executive Officer Ronald R. Gastelum said the agreement is fair to all the involved agencies.

"Ultimately, the final package reflects a number of important policy principles that have been important to Metropolitan from the outset of negotiations, particularly the need for each party to pay its own costs of implementing its components of the QSA, especially potential environmental costs," Gastelum said.

Gastelum expressed hope that the other water agencies involved -- IID, Coachella and SDCWA -- would endorse the proposed deal, without last-minute renegotiation.

"Metropolitan now calls on each of the other agencies to stick to this deal that has been forged and approve this sound compromise that helps advance water policy throughout the state," he said.

Coachella's board is scheduled to consider approval of the proposed QSA Wednesday, with San Diego County Water Authority's board expected to take it up Thursday. Later today, IID will hold public workshop on the proposed QSA and related documents. Imperial's board is expected to vote Oct. 7.

Today's action offers a potential repeat of circumstances last December, when Metropolitan's board was first to authorize execution of an earlier version of the negotiated QSA. After Coachella's governing board also signed off on the proposal, IID's board of directors ultimately did not approve the agreement, citing concerns with potential environmental mitigation costs.

After the agencies failed to agree on the QSA by the year's end, the federal government immediately cut off California's access to surplus water from the Colorado River, reducing the state's river supplies by up to 800,000 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is nearly 326,000 gallons, about the amount used annually by two typical Southland families.)

Although Metropolitan was able to call on other resources to avoid any short-term supply impacts to its 26 member public agencies, the federal action underscored the need to finalize the QSA, Gastelum said.

Since last January, negotiators for the four California water agencies, with assistance from state and federal resource officials, have been working on a QSA that would be acceptable to all parties.

The proposed agreement recently reached by the agencies forms the foundation of the California plan to gradually reduce the state's use of Colorado River water to its annual basic apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet. Under a seven-state agreement, California has until 2017 to reduce its draw on the river from about 5.2 million acre-feet to its basic annual apportionment in the absence of surplus water.

Under the proposed QSA, Metropolitan would purchase up to 1.6 million acre-feet of additional water that Imperial proposes to conserve and sell to the state, beyond the 200,000 acre-feet it plans to transfer annually to San Diego and 100,000 acre-feet it plans to transfer to Coachella. Metropolitan would pay $250 per acre-foot for any additional water IID conserves, with the net proceeds from that sale -- estimated at up to $300 million -- going to help pay for the sea's restoration and environmental impacts to the Colorado River ecosystem.

Metropolitan also would contribute $20 for every acre-foot of special surplus water made available to the district to help fund the Salton Sea restoration effort.

Details of the agreement are available on Metropolitan's Web site,

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving nearly 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.

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