On Wednesday, an Imperial Irrigation District workshop explained the role of the river’s many stakeholders.
The history of the Law of the River was presented by Bill Swan and John Carter, attorneys counseling IID.
“California’s contracts are very senior,” Swan said. “The present perfected rights (pre-1929 agreements) make California’s water rights very secure.”
Water board members tend to focus on their own district, Swan said. But it is helpful to understand the broader territory, and how each water district fits into the scheme, he said.
The chronology of how the law evolved was presented to show board members and ratepayers how regulations will help them make decisions, Swan said.
It was the Colorado River Compact of 1922 that apportioned the water among the upper-basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico and lower-basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, Swan said. Since average annual water flow of the river is 15 million acre-feet, each basin was authorized to a 7.5 million acre-feet annual allocation.
The Boulder Canyon Project Act, passed by Congress in 1929, aimed to control floods and regulate delivery of water for users. It also authorized the building of the Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal. And it gave California 4.4 million acre-feet, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada 300,000 acre-feet of water.
A Seven-Party Agreement in 1931 allocated water in a ranked priority. IID was to receive 3.4 million acre-feet. But some of these quantities were not fixed and remained as “elastic water rights.”
Post-1968 agreements put additional strains on the river. The Central Arizona Project allowed Arizona to pump water from Lake Havasu to the Phoenix. But to get congressional backing Arizona accepted lower priority rights than California.
In 1998, IID entered into a water conservation and transfer agreement with San Diego County Water Authority. But MWD and Coachella objected and negotiations ensued between the Seven-Party Agreement agencies and the federal government, Carter said.
This is known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement, which tried to quantify the amount of water IID received while keeping California within its 4.4 million acre-feet. Negotiations determined IID would temporarily agree to 3.1 million acre-feet of California’s 4.4 million. The QSA was signed in 2003.
But some in Imperial Valley opposed the QSA and a lawsuit was filed, Carter said. The courts ruled IID did everything correctly, but a provision in the QSA that committed California to pay transfer project mitigation costs was unconstitutional. The case is on appeal, but IID can continue with the conservation and transfer projects, Carter said.
Because of above-average rainfall last year and storage capacity of Imperial County reservoirs, IID is able to maintain its apportionment, Carter said.
Discussions on an international project could make more Colorado River water available, Carter said. Funding from one or more of the Seven-Party Agreement agencies for a desalinization plant in Mexico could create an “exchange,” allowing Mexico to reduce its use of water.
All of these efforts reduce IID’s risk of being subjected to any future Colorado River shortage, Carter said.
Staff Writer William Roller can be reached at 760-337-33435 or email@example.com