Is San Diego reviving the idea of building its own Colorado River Aqueduct?

A cryptic item in the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the San Diego Water Authority Board suggests the agency may still harbor an interest in having its own canal to the Colorado River, separate from the current system through which it gets its Colorado River water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

SCDWA board memo, April 11, 2019

alternative conveyance options

There is history here. In 1934, San Diego signed its own contract with the federal government for Colorado River water. (The episode merits a footnoted digression in our new book, though the episode is an obscure enough piece of Colorado River history that I had to call my co-author, Eric Kuhn, who wrote the footnote, to refresh my memory. No episode is so obscure that it slips Eric’s memory.)

The original plan was for a “San Diego aqueduct”, an extension of the All-American Canal, which currently carries water to farms in the Imperial Valley. As detailed in the 1948 Hoover Dam Documents, the canal was superseded during the 1940s by the construction of an extension of the MWD system, something deemed a military necessity because of San Diego’s critical role as a Navy base during World War II and, presumably, the Cold War that was revving up thereafter. Contracts were changed, big checks were written by the federal government, and San Diego became tethered to Met’s system from the north, rather than to the All-American Canal to the east.

Over the years there also have been discussions of San Diego connecting via Mexico’s plumbing that currently brings Colorado River water to Tijuana. That also could be, in the language of the SDCWA staff memo, “alternative conveyance”.