Pumps Are Off to Stop Water Going to Southern California

Jan. 8, 2003

Pumps that send water from the Colorado River to California were shut off recently after the federal government suspended the state's use of surplus water from the Rocky Mountains.

News reports have said that the pumps were turned off on January 1 by the Metropolitan Water District of California (MWD), which serves Los Angeles and five surrounding counties.

Under an 80-year old compact, four irrigation districts in Southern California, including MWD, drew about 75 percent of that state's share of Colorado River water. In fact, the state took more than its allotment for years, but was allowed to do so because other states were not taking their full allotment.

However, that changed this year. Colorado has said it expects to have two million new residents in the coming decades. In response to that concern, the U.S. Interior Department brokered a deal two years ago, giving California until December 31, 2002, to set a plan that would decrease its annual take of 5.25 million acre-feet a year to its allotment of 4.4 million acre-feet.

After a year of negotiations, a deal appeared to have been made but fell through when one irrigation district rejected one aspect of the plan -- an agreement to fallow land and sell water to San Diego County. The Imperial Irrigation District is filled with giant agribusinesses that often raise three crops a year. Officials there feared a transfer of water to San Diego would put some of their farmers out of business and hurt their economy.

There was no 11th-hour settlement, and the Interior Department said it had no choice but to reduce Imperial's water by 7 percent and to suspend shipments to the MWD.

The cutbacks take away approximately 50 percent of MWD's Colorado River water and about 25 percent of its total supply. However, MWD president Ronald Gastelum said the district will still be able to meet its demand.

"Metropolitan's latest supply projections show that Southern California will have enough imported water from the Colorado River and California aqueducts to meet demands in 2003 and 2004, without having to dip into water stored in Southland surface reservoirs," Gastelum said on January 6. "In fact, with the region's continued commitment to conservation, recycling, ground water cleanup and storage, and a CALFED Bay/Delta solution, along with additional investments in seawater desalination, water transfers, and ground water banking partnerships, Metropolitan expects to meet Southern California's imported water demands for the next 20 years.

Source: National Groundwater Association