Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Water Wars: SD County Water Authority Takes MWD to State Supreme Court

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 11 September, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
4 min read

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

It's not news for those of us who live here, San Diego is expensive.

From meals, to electricity, to water, America's Finest City residents pay through the nose for common services.

San Diego has some of the most expensive water in the country.

According to California-Nevada Water and Wastewater study, only 5 counties in California bill their residents more a month for water, and none of the 5 come close to the population count of San Diego, they are:

  • Santa Cruz
  • San Mateo
  • Alameda
  • Santa Barbara
  • Mendocino

And the problem is, there is no end in sight for prices to come down.

The San Diego County Water Authority estimates rates could double in a decade if the status quo remains.

SDCWA sent a letter to the MWD earlier this year, detailing what the water authority believes is an out-of-control bureaucracy that wastes taxpayer dollars on mismanagement and then passes those mistakes onto ratepayers.

SDCWA highlighted:

  • "MWD overcharged ratepayers $847 million between 2012-2015"
  • "MWD overspent it budget by $1.2 billion over four years 2013-2016"
  • "MWD depleted its cash reserves resorted to borrowing $900 million in unplanned debt"


Optimizing the transportation of the state's water is the focus of a new program called California WaterFix, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The program is being expedited by the MWD, and is a concern of the public and water authority who say this plan needs more time to be scrutinized.

Critics say the MWD bought 4 delta islands in Contra Costa County for $175 million in 2016 without an appraisal. The path of the twin tunnels go through the islands. According to the Sacramento Bee, a new audit revealed $50 million in taxpayer funds were used to improperly subsidize San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts as they helped plan the project.

The goal of the program is to move water throughout the state more cheaply.  A $15 billion plan proposed by the Governor to build two large 4-story tall tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento river to the intake stations in the central valley. It would replace what some believe is an outdated aqueduct system


SDCWA announced recently that it will take the MWD to the State Supreme Court to fight what it calls a pattern of price gouging.

The largest issue being how much the MWD charges for transporting Colorado River water to San Diego. SDCWA contends it was not only billed for moving the water from one place to another, but also for the MWD’s costs of maintaining the California Aqueduct. That aqueduct isn't used to bring Colorado River water to San Diego.  Mark Muir, who chairs the Water Authority's Board of Directors said of taking the case to Supreme Court, “While components of this case appear complex, it essentially boils down to whether MWD can force San Diego County to pay for a State Water Project supply it didn’t want to buy and hasn’t received.”


MWD officials contend the Water Authority is trying to shift its cost onto ratepayers elsewhere in the state. Lawyers say if the appellate court ruling is stayed by the Supreme Court, the effects will be felt statewide. The Supreme Court justices have about two months to decide whether to accept the case. If they do, it could take 18 months to two years before a final decision is issued.

MWD INVESTIGATES ITS OWNThe MWD is the subject of its own investigation.The LA Times reports the MWD has hired counsel to look into its own ethics department. According to the report, the MWD is paying attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, $1,100/hour to pour over the policies and procedures of the office.  In an interview with the times, Mayorkas said, “We are reviewing documents. We are interviewing individuals at the district. We are looking at the investigative record of these two cases. And we determine that it would be helpful to review records of other investigations conducted, we will certainly request the ability to do so."But, as the times also noted, some MWD members aren't happy with the investigation. MWD board member Sylvia Ballin said,"For the first time, I thought we really and truly had an ethics officer that believed in ethics. And I feel like her hands are being tied.”The agency’s ethics office was created in 1999  to establish and enforce rules involving conflicts of interest, contracting, campaign contributions and other issues.The MWD provides water to 26 cities and water agencies.