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IID Backs Conservation Plan, Strengthening the Colorado River and the Salton Sea

-Editorial

As part of the historic Lower Basin Plan between Arizona, California, and Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water by 2026 to protect the Colorado River system from extended drought, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) Board of Directors met today, unanimously approving the 2023 System Conservation Implementation Agreement (SCIA) with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. This landmark agreement signals IID’s commitment to the sustainability of the Colorado River, crucial to the Imperial Valley as its sole source of water.

The agreement also triggers the release of $70 million from an available $250 million in federal funding earmarked last year for environmental projects to support the Salton Sea.

Under the SCIA, IID pledges to conserve up to 100,000 acre-feet of water in 2023, raising Lake Mead’s elevation behind Hoover Dam by 1.5 feet. This responsive action is a component of the broader May 2023 Lower Basin Plan, which Reclamation identified as the proposed action for near-term operations of the river resulting from the June 2022 call to action by Reclamation for Colorado River water users to develop near-term plans to reduce consumptive use and safeguard critical reservoir elevations.

“This proactive step to support the river is vital for our community. I want to thank and congratulate all parties involved for their collaborative efforts, which have resulted in this agreement that benefits the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and the Salton Sea,” stated IID Board President Alex Cardenas.

The conserved water, generated entirely through IID’s On-Farm Efficiency Conservation Program, exemplifies the outstanding efforts of Imperial Valley growers. About half of the conservation, 50,000 acre-feet, initially designated for transfer to the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) will now instead remain in Lake Mead as a result of an innovative three-party agreement between IID, SDCWA, and The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, benefiting the entire basin through collaborative partnerships and funded at current rates through the Inflation Reduction Act.

IID, holding some of the most senior and legally protected water rights on the Colorado River, annually conserves approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water under the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water conservation and transfer pact.

JB Hamby, IID Director and Chairman of the Colorado River Board of California emphasized the significance of IID’s commitment, stating, “IID’s action today demonstrates leadership on the Colorado River that will protect the Imperial Valley, California, and the Colorado River Basin as a whole from record drought in the near-term and clear the way for focused discussions on operating the Colorado River sustainably in the long-term.” 

Coordination for conservation efforts beyond 2023 continues, with IID proposing a cumulative target of 800,000 acre-feet of additional conservation by 2026. The district has initiated an environmental compliance process for 2024-2026 conservation efforts and is working with agricultural stakeholders and Reclamation to finalize new conservation programs to generate this volume.

The IID’s commitment extends beyond water conservation, with a focus on supporting the Salton Sea as its leading advocate. Collaborative efforts, as outlined in the historic agreement between Reclamation, the California Natural Resources Agency, Coachella Valley Water District, and IID in December 2022, designated $250 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for state projects contributing to the Salton Sea’s restoration.

Wade Crowfoot, Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency:

“A year ago this month, the Colorado River system was facing near-term collapse. Today, the system is stabilized for coming years thanks to IID and other water agencies across California and the Southwest stepping up to conserve water. These were not easy decisions, and leadership from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and funding provided by the President and Congress has been pivotal to these emergency actions. Now, as these near-term conservation programs stabilize Lake Mead and the whole Colorado River system, water agencies across the region are working together to chart a sustainable future for the Basin. We can be proud of our collective progress in recent months while we recognize there is much important work ahead.”

Dan Denham, General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority:

“The San Diego County Water Authority is pleased to partner with the Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on a mutually beneficial exchange agreement that will help bolster the river for all users. It is this kind of flexibility and consensus planning that will pave the way for a more sustainable river, and it is another example of the leadership California water agencies have shown over the past 20 years since the signing of the QSA.”

Adán Ortega, Jr., Chair, Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors:

“This partnership between Metropolitan, Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority, and the Bureau of Reclamation is one example of how solutions developed collaboratively can benefit everyone. Our efforts to reduce our reliance on the Colorado River can be magnified by our growing and mutual interdependence leading to creative and lasting solutions, where the people we all serve win, as does the environment.”

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