California

River Stakeholders

California's Colorado River Water Use Highlights:

California's Colorado River Water Use:

From the 2023 Annual Report – View Full Report Here ⟶

Water agencies across Southern California took steps in 2023 to further reduce their use of Colorado River water as part of their commitment to implement immediate conservation measures under the Lower Basin Plan for the Supplemental EIS for short-term Colorado River operations.

The plan – submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in May – calls for 3 million acre-feet of additional conservation in the Lower Basin by the end of 2026. Approximately 1.6 million acre-feet of that would be generated from California, in-line with California’s proposal in late 2022 to conserve up to an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water a year for four years.

To support some of these actions,California agencies are executing six contracts for federal funding for short-term water savings under Reclamation’s LC Conservation Program. At the start of the year, some California agencies also continued their conservation commitments funded through the 500+ Plan by Reclamation, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Thanks to these efforts and a wet water year, Colorado River water deliveries to California in 2023 are on track to be the lowest in the state since 1949 – approximately 700,000 acre-feet lower than the state’s 4.4 million acre-foot apportionment and the state will store a record amount of Intentionally Created Surplus in Lake Mead.

In August, agencies also submitted proposals for long-term conservation actions that would provide water savings well beyond 2026. Those proposals are being evaluated by Reclamation.

California celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Quantification Settlement Agreement on Oct. 10, 2023. The landmark agreement generated the largest ag-to-urban water transfer in the nation, led to new agricultural conservation in California, and facilitated a new era of collaboration among California’s agricultural and urban water agencies.

Leadership at the Colorado River Board of California also changed hands in 2023, with the election of Imperial Irrigation District Director JB Hamby as River Board chairman in January.

IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT (IID)

IID continues to make significant strides to support the Colorado River, while providing a reliable water supply for Imperial Valley to grow food for the nation. IID now conserves about 500,000 acre-feet each year, amounting to approximately 16% of its annual entitlement. In support of the Lower Basin Plan, IID has proposed conserving an additional 250,000 acre-feet each year (for a total of 24% of its supply) from 2024-2026, and continues working with federal officials to develop the mechanisms necessary to implement these commitments. In 2023, IID continues to implement its Equitable Distribution Program, as one of many water management initiatives, and will end the year meeting all local water demands and QSA obligations while creating excess water for Lake Mead.

IID’s support for the Salton Sea continues. In late 2022, the IID Board of Directors authorized a landmark agreement with California and the Department of the Interior designating $250 million in Reclamation funding to accelerate dust suppression and habitat projects at the Salton Sea to facilitate water conservation in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

IID also saluted the completion of its newest reservoir, the Lloyd Allen Water Conservation Operational Reservoir.

PALO VERDE IRRIGATION DISTRICT (PVID)

PVID continued to conserve water under a short-term agricultural land fallowing program funded through the 500+ Plan, conserving more than 58,400 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead through July 2023. The fallowing is based on an ongoing partnership between PVID and Metropolitan. As part of the effort to boost Lake Mead, Metropolitan turned over available fallowing capacity to Reclamation to create system water, rather than funding fallowing and transferring the conserved water to urban Southern California. PVID and Metropolitan submitted a proposal to continue this short-term fallowing with federal funding under Reclamation’s new conservation program. Starting Aug. 1, 2023, the PVID- Metropolitan fallowing program would be at a maximum fallowing call of 25,947 acres and continue for three consecutive years, through July 2026, for a total estimated water savings of 381,420 acre-feet.

PVID celebrated its centennial on Oct. 26, 2023. In 1923, the Palo Verde Mutual Water Company, The Palo Verde Levee District and the Palo Verde Drainage District combined to form PVID.

COACHELLA VALLEY WATER DISTRICT (CVWD)

CVWD took action in late 2022 to save more than 9,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water by temporarily curtailing replenishment at its Thomas E. Levy Facility, under the 500+ Plan. Replenishment was also curtailed in 2023 and will continue through 2025, with short-term funding from Reclamation’s new conservation program – approved by CVWD’s board and Reclamation – saving 35,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually. A second application for short-term funding, approved by CVWD’s board in November 2022 but still awaiting Reclamation’s approval, focuses on agricultural fallowing programs, with the intent of saving up to 10,000 acre-feet per year for three years.

CVWD also requested federal funding for longer-term conservation under Reclamation’s new conservation program. One proposal would expand a recycled water project to produce an additional 1,000 acre-feet of recycled water for agricultural irrigation. A second program would incentivize conservation on golf courses through irrigation efficiencies and turf removal, for up to 300 acre-feet of annual savings.

THE METROPOLITAN WATER DISTRICT OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

In addition to temporarily turning over to Reclamation its fallowing programs with PVID and Bard Water District, Metropolitan also initiated plans in 2023 to leave more water stored in Lake Mead through at least 2026, to boost lake levels in the short term. In addition, Metropolitan took steps in 2023 to permanently reduce the use of Colorado River water in urban Southern California through conservation and development of new local supplies. The agency co- sponsored statewide legislation – passed in September and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in November – prohibiting businesses and institutions from using drinking water to irrigate decorative or non-functional lawns. And Metropolitan took steps to expand its turf-rebate program, incentivizing Southern California residents and business owners to replace their grass with more sustainable landscaping.

Metropolitan also continued to advance Pure Water Southern California, including receiving $80 million in funds from the State of California in July to advance development of the project, which will purify cleaned wastewater to produce a new large-scale, drought-proof water supply for Southern California. When complete, it will produce enough water to meet the annual demands of more than 500,000 homes.

Despite the challenges brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, California water agencies continued their efforts in 2020 to help ensure the river will continue to provide a reliable supply of water to the Southwest in the coming decade.

In November, Southern California took a major step forward on the path to develop a new sustainable water source from purified wastewater as Metropolitan Water District’s (Metropolitan) Board of Directors voted to begin environmental planning work on what would be one of the largest advanced water treatment plants in the world. The approval marks a significant milestone for the Regional Recycled Water Program, a partnership between Metropolitan and Los Angeles County Sanitation District to reuse water currently sent to the ocean. While Metropolitan has a history of providing subsides to its member agencies to develop local water supplies, this program marks Metropolitan’s first venture into developing a local, sustainable water supply for the benefit of the entire region.

If fully realized, the project would take clean wastewater from the Sanitation District’s Joint Water Pollution Control Plant in Carson and purify it using innovative treatment processes, producing up to 150 million gallons of water daily (about 168,000 acre-feet a year)– the amount used by more than 500,000 homes. The purified water would initially be used for groundwater replenishment and storage, and by industrial facilities. After additional treatment, it may later be delivered directly to Metropolitan’s existing water treatment plants and used for drinking water, after the state develops regulations for direct potable reuse.

Following a successful two-year pilot program, Metropolitan and Bard Water District launched a seasonal fallowing program in April, including the execution of agreements with four farmers within Bard in March. The enrollment for the April-July fallowing periods was about 2,750 irrigable acres. By providing an annual incentive of $452 per irrigable acre fallowed, Metropolitan’s payments for this year’s season totaled $1.26 million, with 75% of the funding going to participating farmers and 25% to Bard to fund system improvements. Metropolitan estimates it received about 5,500 acre-feet of Colorado River supply under this program this year.

With the Bard program, and Metropolitan’s conservation programs with Palo Verde Irrigation District and Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan expects to store more than 300,000 acre-feet of water in its Intentionally Created Surplus account in Lake Mead this year, increasing the total account balance to about 1.3 million acre-feet, which accounts for 15 feet of Lake Mead’s current elevation.

The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) continued to meet its obligations under the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement and related agreements by implementing the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water conservation and transfer programs. Relying largely on efficiency based on-farm and system conservation projects, IID has conserved more than 6 million acre- feet since 2003 and continues to exceed annual conservation targets. In September, IID provided written testimony before Congress in the first hearing held in 23 years on federal and state efforts to restore the Salton Sea. Conducted by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, the hearing focused on the need for federal support to expedite critical projects at the Salton Sea and take necessary steps to ensure that federal partners are fully committed. IID’s testimony reflected on how the Salton Sea is an indispensable part of the Colorado River system, and its rapid decline is one that both the Upper and Lower Basins must address as a community of aligned interests.

Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) continued its rebate program to fund the costs of sealing uncontrolled flows from artesian wells. Additionally, CVWD offers several rebates to domestic water customers, which reduces groundwater pumping and protects the groundwater basin.

CVWD continues to engage stakeholders in the development of new programs and efforts to reduce water demand. CVWD’s Agricultural Water Advisory Group includes representatives from the CVWD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Resource Conservation District, academia and agricultural customers. The group meets regularly to discuss studies, regulations, customer service and ideas related to water use efficiency. A program that offered rebates to golf courses to replace turf with desert landscaping was completed this year and CVWD is researching other ways to assist golf courses in demand reduction.

Palo Verde Irrigation District continues to explore additional agricultural conservation measures and is in the second year of a three-year study of deficit irrigation on alfalfa in the Palo Verde Valley. The study is exploring both the water savings and impacts to crops by skipping certain planned irrigations during the year. If the study proves successful, deficit irrigation could be used at other places in the Colorado River Basin to conserve water.

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