Judge Upholds Landmark 2003 Colorado River Accord

Short Title
Judge Upholds Landmark 2003 Colorado River Accord
Decision secures water supplies for San Diego County and California

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly on Tuesday validated the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement and rejected all of the remaining legal challenges to the landmark accord. The ruling secures a key component of water supply for the San Diego County Water Authority, which will receive 180,000 acre-feet of water this year as result of the QSA and related projects.

For California, Connelly’s decision provides certainty about access to its basic annual apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River.

“This is a momentous victory for California, and especially for our economy and quality of life in San Diego County,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “The Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement and its cornerstone water transfer agreements mean long-term water security for our region’s $188 billion economy and the quality of life of 3.1 million residents."

Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton, who led negotiations for the Water Authority on its water transfer with the Imperial Irrigation District and the agreement to line the All American and Coachella Canals, called Tuesday’s ruling a “landmark victory in San Diego’s historic quest for a more reliable water supply."

“The Colorado River QSA and our water transfer agreements were the product of eight years of difficult and contentious negotiations,” Stapleton said.  “We were convinced that the historic accords we crafted were done right, met every legal requirement and were built to last the 45-, 75- and 100-year terms of the agreements.

“After 10 years of protracted litigation, today’s ruling underscores and validates the durability of these historic accords."

The Water Authority’s General Counsel Dan Hentschke praised the ruling and the work of the Water Authority’s litigation team led by Lisabeth Rothman and Amy Steinfeld of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, as well as the excellent legal work by the lawyers for all the QSA parties. 

“Judge Connelly’s ruling is thorough and very well reasoned,” Hentschke said. “These agreements are the legal framework for assuring that California lives within its Colorado River basic annual apportionment. The court’s ruling confirms our long-held belief that the agreements are firmly grounded in the law."

The QSA was finalized in October 2003, providing California the means to implement water transfers and supply programs that allow the state to live within its basic annual apportionment from the Colorado River. It 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.

In 2013, supplies from the QSA will meet about 30 percent of San Diego County’s water demand.  By 2021, the Water Authority will receive approximately 280,000 acre-feet of water annually from the agreements, which will meet about one-third of the region’s water demands. An acre-foot is approximately 325,900 gallons, or roughly enough to supply two typical single-family households of four for a year.

In December 2011, California’s Third District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that had invalidated the Water Authority-IID water transfer and a number of other pieces of the QSA. The appeals court remanded several issues to the trial court, including questions about whether the agreement was properly processed under California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Connelly affirmed all of the contested actions, including the adequacy of the environmental documents prepared by the Imperial Irrigation District to enter into the suite of agreements that comprise the QSA.

For background about the QSA and to read Tuesday’s ruling, go to www.sdcwa.org/quantification-settlement-agreement.