Colorado River Water Transfers

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Colorado River
Water Transfers

Major court victory validates 2003 Colorado River accord

In a June ruling closely watched across the West, a Superior Court judge upheld the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement and rejected all of the remaining legal challenges to the landmark accord.

The decision was vital to San Diego County’s long-term water security because it protected the region’s access to a large, growing and highly reliable supply source. The QSA and related projects provided 180,000 acre-feet of water in 2013. The Water Authority’s contracts for that water range from 45 to 110 years, providing the region with Colorado River water that doesn’t depend on purchases or allocations from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Thirteen of the nearly three dozen agreements that comprise the QSA were challenged in court. In December 2011, the California Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the QSA and sent the case back to the trial court for resolution of the few remaining challenges. In July 2013, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly rejected the remaining legal challenges, underscoring the agreements’ durability. In particular, the court rejected challenges based on compliance with environmental quality laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act. 

Appeals of elements of Connelly’s ruling are working their way through the courts. A federal court challenge was also rejected by the district court, and that decision is also pending appellate review. The water transfers and other activities contained in the QSA have continued throughout the legal process.

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Reliable, long-term supplies from the QSA

The Quantification Settlement Agreement was finalized in October 2003, providing California the means to conserve and transfer water within the state so it can live within its basic annual apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado River. The QSA was signed by representatives from the Water Authority, Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Coachella Valley Water District and state and federal governments.

By 2021, QSA-related supplies are projected to meet about one-third of the region’s water demands by providing 280,000 acre-feet of water a year, and they will continue to be a foundational element of the region’s water supply portfolio for decades.