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MWD Rejects 'Outrageous' Imperial Offer to Sell Water

November 10, 1987|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City-County Bureau Chief

Leaders of the Southland's major water agency on Monday angrily rejected the Imperial Irrigation District's latest proposal to sell surplus water from the Imperial Valley to Southern California cities and suburbs as a replacement for water that will be taken by fast-growing Arizona in a few years.

The vote of the Metropolitan Water District's Water Problems Committee, expected to be ratified by the MWD board today, is a blow to those who hope the huge district will be able to provide water for Southern California growth without continuing to press for more water from Northern California. A plan to boost importation from the north by constructing expensive new facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was defeated by voters in 1982 and later attempts to revive the plan in the Legislature have been turned down.

Water Sale Proposal

"Outrageous," is how MWD General Manager Carl Boronkay termed the proposal by the Imperial district to sell 100,000 acre-feet of surplus water each year to the MWD for $250 an acre-foot, $100 more than the local district has offered. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons of water, and a family of four uses about half an acre-foot of water annually.

But John Benson, a director of the district that supplies water to the farm-rich Imperial Valley, replied: "They made a low-ball offer. We countered. I thought it was all part of negotiations. I see nothing outrageous."

The negotiations between Metropolitan and Imperial districts have been in trouble more than two years, but Monday's action represented the toughest stand yet by the MWD. And if negotiations collapse, it would have a direct effect on Southern Californians in the vast area served by MWD, which extends from Ventura County to the Mexican border and from the coast into the Inland Empire.

In the next few years, Arizona will be taking its full allotment of 1.2 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado River, reducing the MWD's share of the Colorado from 1.2 million acre-feet to 550,000.

Several years ago, a state board found that the Imperial Irrigation District was wasting a substantial amount of the 2.2 million acre-feet of Colorado River water it receives through leaky canals and other primitive facilities. A total of 34% of its allocation flows into the Salton Sea.

Negotiations Undertaken

With that finding by the state, the Imperial district and Metropolitan began negotiating, with the MWD offering $10 million a year to construct conservation facilities and line the canals and irrigation ditches, in return for 100,000 acre-feet of Imperial's Colorado allocation.

But as the negotiations began, a relatively new theory won favor in water-rich agricultural districts such as Imperial--water marketing. The districts said that water had become a scarce commodity in California and should be conserved and sold because with urban areas growing, Colorado supplies were shrinking and political opposition to more Northern California importations was increasing.

In 1982, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) pushed through legislation that made the water-marketing theory part of state water law, giving districts the right to lease, buy or sell water.

Boronkay charged that Imperial was asking for "exorbitant payments far beyond the estimated cost of conservation measures."

Objected to Provisions

He also objected to the 25-year limit and to a provision that would free Imperial of an obligation to provide water to Metropolitan in years when plenty of Colorado River water was available. And he objected to language in the agreement that approved the concept of water marketing, which MWD has never liked.

Moving to obtain water from another area, the Water Problems Committee approved a pilot project with the Coachella Valley Water District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation aimed at eventually conserving 100,000 acre-feet of water from that area by lining canals.

Katz criticized both the Imperial and Metropolitan districts, saying "neither side, and particularly Met, have been serious with negotiations."

He said the MWD is holding off on serious negotiations because it still hopes the Sacramento-San Joaquin water importation facilities--the Peripheral Canal--will be built. "That will not happen," Katz said.

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