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IID response to Reclamation’s draft of Colorado River interim operating guideline revisions

-Editorial

Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Henry Martinez issued the following statement on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) released today by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The draft SEIS evaluates potential modifications to the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines that govern the operation of the Colorado River’s major dams and reservoirs.

“IID remains committed to being part of a seven-state consensus that protects the Colorado River system,” Martinez said. “The district looks forward to fully reviewing the draft SEIS and its components and its continued cooperation with Reclamation and the Basin States and Basin Tribes.” 

The SEIS analyzes three alternatives identified to protect critical reservoir elevations and near-term operating conditions. IID recognizes that Reclamation included an alternative in the SEIS implementing the priority system in accordance with existing agreements and laws, but continues to have concerns with any alternative that involves “equal cuts” among water users.

The priority system is a foundational element of Colorado River water management and planning and provides the tools to address the very shortage circumstances the system is now experiencing. This shortage situation was anticipated and addressed in numerous agreements and laws, which set out actions to be taken and plans to be implemented at this point in time. Alternatives that skirt around long-standing water rights, as well as the agreements and laws put in place to address this situation, have the potential to jeopardize existing long-standing California water agency partnerships and billions of dollars of long-term planning investments that have provided water supply resilience within the state for more than two decades.  

Earlier this year, the Colorado River Board of California submitted a proposed modeling alternative for Reclamation’s SEIS process on behalf of the state and its member agencies. This proposal was built on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts to address the ongoing drought conditions and supported a voluntary California proposal to conserve up to 1.6 million acre-feet of additional water to support Lake Mead’s declining reservoir elevation.

As part of California’s plan, IID would conserve an additional 250,000 acre-feet of water annually through 2026 (up to 1 million acre-feet total), and submitted a funding proposal last year for Inflation Reduction Act monies to expand conservation efforts within the district for up to 750,000 acre-feet per year, or over 24 percent of its entitlement.

“More recently, IID and Reclamation have had productive discussions regarding IID’s funding proposal to support additional conservation in the Imperial Valley,” Martinez said. “There is much yet still to discuss, and IID must consider how future Reclamation actions resulting from any revised interim operating guidelines would impact additional conservation efforts going forward.”

Since 2003, the district has conserved over 7.2 million acre-feet under the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water conservation and transfer agreement, supporting California water resiliency and the Colorado River.

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