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Plan Alters Water Flow to L.A.

Draft proposal calls for the state and U.S. to cooperate on shipping and storage in a bid to replace a 15% loss from the Colorado River.

August 09, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — More water would flow to Los Angeles and San Diego under a plan that would alter the way Northern California water flows south through a vast system of state and federal pumps, aqueducts and reservoirs, officials said Friday.

The draft proposal, negotiated last month over days of closed-door meetings in Napa, frees up additional water for the south by merging the operations of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. A public hearing and environmental review are scheduled before the plan becomes final.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the biggest State Water Project contractor, stands to gain an additional 250,000 acre-feet of water from the system each year, said Tim Quinn, an MWD vice president who attended the meetings.

Quinn said the proposal makes room in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for the MWD to draw even more Northern California water that it has purchased from farmers. Metropolitan wasn't able to get all the water it bought last year from Sacramento Valley rice farmers because the system was full, he said.

Environmentalists said the MWD was looking to the north as a relief valve to make up its losses from the Colorado River. The agency that serves 17 million people lost some of its river supply when the Interior Department cut the amount of water the state can draw from the Colorado this year by 15%.

"MWD is looking at a big hole in that aqueduct they have kept full," said Tom Graff, a lawyer with Environmental Defense. "Realistically, in the long or short run, the only way they could make up that shortfall is to look north."

Long-standing political differences between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources prevented the two agencies from operating their systems more efficiently. The state has bigger pumps, but lacks storage; the federal government has plenty of storage, but fewer pumps.

Under the proposal, the federal government would store state project water in its reservoirs. The state would ship some federal water south through its pumps, said Jeff McCracken, a Bureau of Reclamation spokesman.

Environmentalists and others were upset that they were kept out of the talks, which involved officials in the Bureau of Reclamation, state water department, MWD and other big water agencies.

Participants were quick to say, however, that the meetings were not secret.

"The notion that there's back-room, cigar-filled-room stuff going on is ... pretty preposterous," Quinn said.

The Bureau of Reclamation met Friday with representatives of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, which was concerned that its rights to the Trinity River in Northern California would be put in jeopardy by the Napa proposal. Officials assured them that their rights would be protected, said Michael Orcutt, director of the Hoopa Fisheries Department.

The plan hinges on the Army Corps of Engineers approving a permit to send 27% more water through the state's Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant near Stockton. In addition, an agreement must be approved to commit some Northern California water agencies to reducing their supplies to help the Delta.

Another beneficiary would be the Fresno-based Westlands Water District.

Under the proposal, the bureau would be able to let farmers know earlier in the year and with more accuracy how much Central Valley Project water they would be receiving.

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