Negative Ruling on Nation’s Largest Water Transfer Should Instigate Examination of State’s Poor Water Management

Last Thursday, Superior Court Judge Roland L. Candee issued a tentative order invalidating the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer agreement, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA).

Signed in 2003, the QSA transferred water from California’s Imperial Irrigation District to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Coachella Valley Water District, and the San Diego County Water Authority.

As part of the QSA, the State of California made an open-ended commitment to pay for mitigating impacts to the Salton Sea. Judge Candee’s tentative ruling holds that it was unconstitutional to commit future state budgets to these undefined costs.

This legal ruling has implications for future transfers of Colorado River water as well as other large-scale water management decisions, such as the still-under-development Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Here are a few take-aways from Judge Candee’s order:

Environmental and public health commitments cannot be put off until a later date. (There’s a real danger that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process is repeating this fatal error.)

California must reduce its dependence on water imported from distant and unreliable sources. While transfers from within the same water basin will continue at some level, we need to move to a reliable future based on greater development of local water supplies that are not at risk of legal challenges, environmental conflicts, and climate change impacts.

As the California State Water Plan demonstrates, there’s a large portfolio of sustainable, cost-effective water solutions that can meet California’s current and future water needs.

Local interests, whether in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys or in the Bay Delta must be made full partners to develop sustainable water management solutions.