SACRAMENTO — Angry Metropolitan Water District officials complained Monday that the Wilson Administration is cutting back on water deliveries to Southern California cities this year to give a bigger share to farming interests.
The state action has so angered some members of MWD's board of directors that they have said privately that they may propose today that the agency withhold the $413 million it is required to pay for its share of State Water Project, according to Duane Georgeson, the water district's assistant general manager.
He said MWD officials were baffled when they discovered that a new water delivery schedule announced by the state Department of Water Resources on Friday would give the district only 35% of the water it has requested this year while most farming agencies would get 50%.
He said the department was justifying the difference on the grounds that Metropolitan had other sources of water and therefore could absorb a larger reduction in supplies than some other districts.
"To use that as a basis to give us a reduced allocation so that there is more water apparently for agriculture seems grossly unfair," Georgeson said. "What's the incentive to conserve water if this is the way the department is going to administer its water contracts?"
Water Resources Director David Kennedy argued that the department was simply trying to be fair, allocating proportionately less water to agencies such as the MWD, which also draws water from the Colorado River.
"We're trying to treat everybody just the same conceptually and not let anybody get an advantage," he said. Kennedy said if there is abundant rain this winter, the allocations will be increased to all contractors.
The State Water Project is a vast system of rivers, dams and reservoirs that brings water from the Feather River watershed in Northern California south over the Tehachapis into Southern California. In most years, it supplies about half of the water distributed each year by Metropolitan, the Southland's giant water wholesaler.
At the end of each calendar year, the Department of Water Resources determines, based on an assessment of supplies it has available in the system, how much water it can distribute in the coming year to each of the 29 agricultural and urban water districts that contract with it for deliveries.
Georgeson said Metropolitan had asked for its full entitlement of 2 million acre-feet, but the department had then arbitrarily reduced that request to 1.4 million acre-feet. State officials, he said, then cut the reduced amount by an additional 50% to determine the actual allocation of 700,000 acre-feet.
He said the department did not change most water agencies' initial requests but only applied the 50% cut to determine the actual allocation.
Georgeson said the MWD board will meet today in Los Angeles. He said some members, whom he would not name, were threatening to propose withholding MWD's regular annual payment to the state. MWD payments make up about half of revenue the state water project receives.
Kennedy said the department decided to treat MWD differently from many other districts after it discovered that the district was requesting 600,000 acre-feet more than it had ever used in a single year. Even then, he said the agency's operational plan showed it expected to need only 700,000 to 800,000 acre-feet from the State Water Project next year. Other districts, especially agricultural ones, he said, showed they would need the full amount they requested.
Georgeson said it was unfair to penalize MWD, which is forced each year to pay for 2 million acre-feet even if it does not receive that amount.
He said if the district had ended up with a surplus this year it would have made the extra water available to other agencies. If MWD is denied its full entitlement, he said that will mean it will have less of a cushion in drought years.