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Water brings together competing California districts

by Chris Hinyub, published

Two things often bring competing groups together: a common enemy and necessity. For Southern California cities and West Valley farmers, drought and endangered species legislation fill both of those categories and have encouraged the two water districts to talk out a rare deal. 

In a proposed seasonal swap of water supplies, Westlands Water District is willing to send some water to parched cities in the Metropolitan Water District this summer and fall. To hold up its end of the bargain, Southern California would allocate water usually reserved for 19 million residents to Valley farms next summer. 

The extra water and the impetus for the deal came when San Joaquin Valley farmers planned for a lean year, expecting cutbacks on production. A wet spring provided more water than they could use. In addition, West Valley growers can't store their water surplus for very long. Federal rules governing the San Luis Reservoir stipulate that the government can reclaim space for all its customers. 

Instead of wasting the bounty, Westlands is planning ahead, seeking a mutually beneficial and historic partnership with their neighbors to the south.  Here is the current proposal: Westlands would send from 50,000 to 100,000 acre-feet of water to Metropolitan through the California Aqueduct. In return, Westlands would receive back 2/3 of this amount next summer. 

It seems losing a third of their water reserves to a competing district is more palatable than losing all of it to the feds.  General manager of Metropolitan, Jeffrey Kightlinger calls the deal "a new cooperation out of necessity."

The need for water sharing arose not from the threat of drought alone. Kightinger is referring to state mandated water cutbacks to protect endangered fish species found at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

The deal still must be approved by the boards of both water districts and by government agencies.

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