Officials of the Metropolitan Water District said that urban Southern California's 17 million people and $600 billion economy will benefit from action taken today by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to help assure a dependable supply of Colorado River water for the region.
In a Coronado ceremony, Babbitt signed documents establishing interim criteria for determining when the Colorado River system will have surplus water available for California, Nevada and Arizona. The interim criteria will be in effect for 15 years.
Phillip J. Pace, chairman of Metropolitan's board of directors, said: "Today's action is a major accomplishment and a capstone of Secretary Babbitt's tenure in the Department of the Interior. He has been personally and actively involved in Western water concerns.
"While the road to these criteria has been difficult at times, our resolve to reach them has not been," Pace said. "Accordingly, we have stretched to embrace the concepts and projects that will help us meet our water reliability and quality needs, while protecting the environment.
"Our colleagues in San Diego and the Imperial and Coachella valleys also have taken major steps forward in making water transfers and conjunctive use a viable part of our resources menu," Pace said.
Pace noted that Metropolitan has demonstrated its commitment to protect and enhance the Colorado through efforts to move a mountain of radioactive waste away from the river bank at Moab, Utah; to reduce the salinity of river water; and to conserve the river's fish and wildlife resources.
"Over the past eight years, Mr. Babbitt has worked diligently toward equitable and environmentally sensitive use of Colorado River water, and Metropolitan has been privileged to be a participant in the discussions," said Metropolitan General Manager Ronald R. Gastelum.
"These interim criteria will allow Metropolitan and other Western water managers to better predict when surplus water will be available from the Colorado River system," Gastelum said. "Being able to plan ahead with greater confidence will enhance our capability to operate the aqueduct to continue to meet the needs of urban Southern California."
Dennis Underwood, Metropolitan's senior executive assistant to the general manager on Colorado River issues, noted: "These interim criteria have been developed with the involvement and consensus of Metropolitan, other California agencies and the other states that draw water from the Colorado. They provide improved river management and a predictable supply while California takes measures to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River."
Surplus water is available from the Colorado at the Secretary's discretion. For many years, the Secretary has granted Metropolitan more than 600,000 acre-feet to keep its aqueduct full. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, approximately the amount used by two typical Southern California families in and around their homes in a year.)
However, as other growing Southwestern states take their full apportionments of river water, the amount of surplus water available may decrease. The "interim" (15-year) criteria for determining surplus water on the river will give California a transition period in which to further develop water conservation, recycling, storage and transfer programs and wean itself from overreliance on the Colorado River.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 27 cities and water agencies serving 17 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 water-management programs.