I '. I S, I ) -. I I
By John Wodraska
Metropolitan Water District of
A hundred years ago, getting around California was arduous.
Settlers usually stayed close to home, as the rigors of negotiating
unpaved roads by lhoseback buggy or wagon made traveling a
Today's highways-a vast network spreading from the largest
metropolis to the tiniest burg and most distant cabin have made the
state seem smaller. After a day's drive a Southern Califmoian can
spend a sightseeing weekend in San Francisco, or a northerner can
bask on San Diego's sunny beaches.
California's water agencies too, were once relatively
parochial. They developed their own water supplies, built their own
delivery systems and existed as self-sufficient entities.
But as California has grown, especially in recent decades, and
as formerly dependable water supplies have become more tenuous,
the state's water agencies have become increasingly interdependent
and cooperation has become more important. This is a development--
a new spirit--whose time has come.
One of the principal themes in California is that we are
becoming interconnected and interrelated in many ways, including
water delivery systems. This can only lead to greater reliability for
Bringing the state's 600 Water agencies closer together are
such programs as water transfers, including various water
management actions that transfer water generally from agricltural to
urban areas; water marketing, which the actual sale of water rights
and conjunctive use of ground water. These water management and
development techniques greatly improve a water agency's reliability
of service-its capacity to weather drought or an earthquake with less
drastic effects on its service area than if such programs did not exist.
Certainly, the past five years of drought have catalyzed some
of these programs-the Governo's 1991 Emergency Water Bank, for
instance. But it is legislation at the state and federal levels that would
expand water marketing in California that has the greatest potential
for further intertwining the state's water agencies and its water
supplies. Already, more than two-thirds of California's water systems
are interconnected. Nearly 75 percent of the state's population can
be served directly, or through exchanges, by the state and federal
water systems-the State Water Project, operated by the Depatuinent
of Water Resources and the Central Valley Project, operated by the
Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation.
With this kind of operational flexibility it is possible to trade
water and conveyance capacity throughout the year. At any given
time, the state might be pumping water for the Bureau of
Reclamation or allowing them to use state storage. or vice versa,
One benefit resulting from the past five years of drought has
been an increase in service connections and cooperation among
California's water agencies. For instance, in 1979 Santa Barbara
County residents, apparently fearing that additional water would spur
growth, voted against building the Coastal Aqueduct that would bring
water to them from the State Water Project's Governor Edmmnd G.
Brown California Aqueduct.
Then they were hit by the drought. Santa Barbara's reservoirs
went dry, its lawns timed brown, and serious consideration was given
to bringing freshwater in by tanker at exorbitant expense. Finally,
Santa Barbara County Water Agency officials turned to other
Southern California water agencies for emergency relief.
Metropolitan and at least a dozen other agencies cooperated to wheel
state project water to the parched coastal enclave through a
complicated maze of permanent and temporary pipelines. This past
June, Santa Barbara residents relented and voted to finally build the
Coastal Aqneduct connection to the State Water Project.
While municipal systems in the north part of California are less
integrated than those in the south, it won't be long before those
systems enjoy a similar level of flexibility. The State Water Project's
South Bay Aqueduct has an emergency connection to San Francisco's
system, and in the past Contra Costa Water District and East Bay
Municipal Utility District have installed emergency interconnections.
Most of these are drought-related, but some will Inst beyond the
Without doubt, Solhicin Califtoiia's water systems have a fat
greater number ofinterconnections as well as cooperative programs
that set the pace for the rest of the state.
For instance, Metropolitan's precedent-setting agreement with
the Imperial Irrigation District (ID)) has been cited by such national
voices as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal as the
type of cooperative program between urban and agricultural water
agencies that will play a major role in helping assure Southern
Californians a dependable water supply into the 21 s century.
OD serves some 500,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Imperial
County, at the far southeast corner of thc state. The agreement
provides for 111) to implement 17 connsevntion projects-such as lining
irrigation canals with concrete and installing canal pates-which will
conserve an estimated 106,000 acre-feet of water annually. (An acre-
foot is 326,000 gallons, or what two average California families use
around the home in a year.)
Metropolitan is funding $222 million in construction,
operation and maintenance costs for 15 of the projects. In return,
Metropolitan will divert additional water from the Colorado River.
equivalent to the amount conserved, for delivery to its service area.
This landmark agreement provides the district with its first
significant new supply of water in many years, while in no way impairing-
and in many ways improving-agricultural efficiency in the Imperial Valley.
Equally important, the unit cost is $120 per acre-foot, compared to $600 to
$800 per acre-foot for reclaimed water and as much as $2,000 an acre-foot
for desalinated water.
In another innovative cooperative program, through a proposed
agreement with the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District (A-E) in Kern
County, Metropolitan expects to store as much as 800,000 acre-feet of its
state project water in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
During years when Metropolitan has not used its full state project
entitlement, the district will send the water to A-E, where it will be stored
in underground basins or sent directly to farmers in exchange for ri4htf to
equal amounts of ground water. In dy years, when Metropolitan's state
project deliveries are cn!tasiled, it would take gbout I lO,Xo ) flre-feet of the
federal project supplies that would normally have been delivered to A-E
and farmers would pump the stored around water for their n~e.
The project promises substantial benefits to the participants. !n the
long run, farmers in Arvin-Edison's service area could save as much as $80
million in pumping costs due to higher ground water level and wonld gain
a more reliable supply. For its part. Metropolitan would gain additional
insurance against drought related state project
C-ts s"~sh as it epIerieneed in 1991 1nd 1972.
A similar cooperative venture offering, water exchantpes and grond
water banking was instituted in 1967 through agreements among
Metropolitan, the Desert Water Againcy and (Coachell Valley Water i.istrit,
which serve the northern and southern portions of the Coachella Valley.
respectively. All three participants are state project contractors, but because
there are no facilities to deliver water from the Californin Aqued.uct to the
Coachella Valley, neither Desert nor Coachella is able to take direct delivery
of their State Water Project entitlements.
The two agencies approached Metropolitan, and the result is
agreements that provide for Desert and Coachella to exchange their state
project water for a like amount of Colorado River water. Metropolitan
delivers supplies via its Colorado River Aquedict to service connectinrr in
the Upper Coachella Valley; from that point. Desert and Coacihe!a convey
the water to spreading basins, where it seeps into underground storage from
which it can be pumped and used when needed. As a bonus, Desert has
constructed a small hydroelectric generating unit that produces power as
water released from the aqueduct to their spreading ground. The sale of this
power helps offset the cost of pumping state project water into Sothern
California. Metropolitan pioneered this concept in the early l980s when it
built a series of 14 such recovery units tluoughout its distribution system to
take advantage of the potential in the water that had been pumped to
elevation to move it over mountain ranges.
For decades, Metropolitan has relied on its two sources of water, the
Colorado River and the State Water Project, to provide for the supplemental
needs of its 27 member public agencies. These agencies have delivered to
their consumers water from their own resoqrces-usimlly gropnd water and
not available to all member agencies--and made up the difference between
demand and supply through purchases from Metropolitan. Recently, the
need has been recognized almost universally to integrate all of the resources
available. Instead of considering various sources as independent storage
containers from which water can be drawn as "wweary, a i of the wptcr is
being viewed in totality.
This includes local round water, city of Los Angeles imports from
the Owens Valley and Mono Basin. reclaimed water, imported water from
Metropolitan and conservation. Conservation is not a srqpply as snch, but a
diminishment of demand which yields essentially the same result.
Such a universal approach should result in greater efficiencies, a more
reasoned approach to the constriction of storage and distribution facilities
and improved reliability at a reasonable cost.
When one recognize that every major population center in (California
relies at least partly on water imported--at great expense--from another
hydrologic basin, it only makes sense to consider all of the developed water
of the state to be regarded as a huge pool from which all needs can be met
through the cooperative operation of that pool.
Even though no physical pipeline exists, it is possible today to deliver
water from the most southeast part of the state to the San Francisco Bay area.
This can be accomplished through displacement. Yet, such a domino effect
is only possible through the cooperation of many water agencies along the
way. Thus, it is the building of trusting relationships among water agencies
that may replace, to some extent, the tbilding of physical facilities.
It is interesting to note the many similmities between Florida and
California on the water front: north vs. south: agriculture vs. mban vs.
environment; drought cycles; large season variances in population and
water demand; source water contamination; legislatures with more important
items on their agendas; consumers whose greatest concern in cost, and
proximity to sea water that, someday, may solve the whole supply/demand
Until that time, however, the watchword through the end of this
century, at least, is cooperation. We've often heard that talk is cheap. Not
talking with each other, however, can be very expensive indeed.