Untangling the QSA

Elizabeth Varin had an interesting story this morning about the latest Imperial Irrigation District discussions about the Quantification Settlement Agreement*, the Byzantine** water deal that provided a path for California to go on a Colorado River diet (reducing its use to its legally allotted 4.4 million acre feet per year). The deal has two key elements – an agreement to reduce ag use in the Imperial Valley and sell the saved water to cities on the coast, and a somewhat vague plan to make the Salton Sea suck less even though reduced ag runoff will make it even smaller and smellier than it is today.

The deal’s sort of a decade old, and to say its implementation isn’t going well would be an  understatement. Varin’s story suggests fears in the Imperial Valley that folks there will be left holding the bag if (when?) the deal falls apart, which is why they’ve hired Chuck DuMars and his team of water policy analysts and lawyers to try to think through what a “Plan B” might look like.

Overall now, though, it seems like the goal of any plan B would be proposing a restructuring to deal with what is actually happening, he said.

“Much of our activities, much of the way we address society today is to propose a theoretical solution, and when it doesn’t work pretend it is working,” (DuMars) said.

That’s what troubles him about the QSA, he said. People wanted it to happen because it’s a great concept to keep agriculture viable and support the economic interest of the Valley, but it’s a product of huge urban political forces, the state, Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River states all pushing for a result. At the end of the day that is not working

One major concern, both when the water transfer was originally being negotiated and now, is whether IID will retain its water rights on the Colorado River.

As part of the agreement, no, the water rights should not be affected, said Stephen Curtice with Law & Resource Planning Associates, DuMars’ law firm out of New Mexico. But in reality, whenever a city gets a source of water, they rarely give it back. The local water district won’t be using that water in 40 years, leaving it open to lawsuits about whether it should have present perfected water rights to it.

The QSA may have legal protection of the water rights of the Imperial Valley, but it’s not a permanent protection, he said.

* There’s a nice untangling of the QSA history in the USBR’s Colorado River Documents, which is a big fat book printed on pieces of paper.

** I mean “Byzantine” here in its sense of “excessively complicated”, not in the more pejorative “devious” connotation often suggested by the word. I think.