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Executive Summary for December 22nd

In this weekly roundup we analyze key water developments around the West, including the extension to 2047 of San Diego’s water transfer deal, no agreement yet of a drought contingency plan for Colorado River Basin states and progress in Lake Powell pipeline planning.

Published on Dec. 22, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

San Diego Water Transfer Extended

The San Diego County Water Authority’s deal with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transfer conserved water from the Imperial Irrigation District has been extended another decade, to 2047.

The San Diego authority reported that the transfer agreement, which sends Colorado River water to Southern California, supplied 20 percent of the San Diego region’s water supply – and in future years it will make up a greater percentage. The organization says that without the agreement it would face “significant supply shortages during future dry years.”

The agreement pays farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District to conserve water they would otherwise use for irrigation, and that water is transferred to urban households in San Diego.

“The deal is one of several reasons that San Diego’s water rates are among the highest in the country,” reported the Voice of San Diego. “It’s also unclear how much the water will cost over the next several decades, in part because those costs depend on things beyond the water authority’s control.”

This agricultural-urban water transfer from the Imperial Valley has also reduced inflows to the Salton Sea, increasing the lake’s salinity and exposing more surface area of dry lakebed that contributes to dangerous air quality levels.

No Drought Contingency Plan

Leaders of Colorado River Basin states met last week at an annual conference in Las Vegas, but no drought contingency plan between lower basin states has been agreed to yet.

Under the terms of an earlier agreement, if Lake Mead drops to a critical elevation that would trigger a shortage declaration, and Arizona and Nevada would see cuts to their allocations. California, the third lower basin state, would not.

But as water levels in the lake have fallen in recent years, talks have emerged to have all three states take voluntary cuts to prevent a shortage declaration. But so far no deals have been reached.

“Nevada is ready to sign the plan,” reported the Nevada Independent. “But California is working through a few issues, and in Arizona several in-state agencies are arguing over how to manage the river.”

Lake Powell Pipeline Planning

The planning process is moving forward for a proposed pipeline that would transport Colorado River water 140 miles from Lake Powell to St. George, Utah in Washington County, about 90 miles east of Las Vegas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has formally accepted the proposal, and an environmental analysis will need to be completed next. The public now also has 60 days to comment on the project. Some believe the project is essential to meet the growing population of the area, while others feel it is unjustified and puts further strain on the beleaguered Colorado River.

“What we’re … still fighting for, is to get numbers from the state, about whether this project is financially feasible,” Nick Schou, conservation director at Utah Rivers Council told Utah Public Radio. “According to the official documents given to FERC by the state, residents of Washington County use 325 gallons per person per day, that’s more than twice the national average. After 10 years and $32 million, there’s been no documentation for the need for this project.”

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