Fact Sheet on the Proposed Imperial Valley-San Diego Water Transfer

Fact Sheet on the Proposed Imperial Valley-San Diego Water Transfer

Published: December 2002

Authors: N/A

Pages: N/A

Fact Sheet on the Proposed Imperial Valley-San Diego Water Transfer


On December 9, 2002 the Imperial Valley Irrigation district voted not to transfer water to San Diego as outlined in the Hertzberg negotiated settlement. This means that the proposed Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) will not go forward. If this deal falls through, California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD) will get 800,000 acre-feet less water next year. Although MWD claims that they have enough storage for the next two years, this water reduction could have serious consequences for California.

According to Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate with the Pacific Institute, “California’s impending water crisis could have been avoided had environmental and community interests helped to craft the transfer agreement. Instead, community and environmental impacts were ignored until too late. For California to live within its means, the full range of water impacts must be addressed.” Mr. Cohen also noted that: “Interior’s decision to separate the water transfer from the Salton Sea is at least partly responsible for California’s current water crisis. Interior needs to step up and protect the Salton Sea, so that the water transfer may proceed.”

The Pacific Institute has put together this web page to explain the possible consequences and implications.


  • It is looking very unlikely that any Imperial Valley-San Diego water transfer will be completed by December 31.
  • Without a transfer, the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) will not be executed by December 31.
  • In turn, the Secretary of Interior to suspend surplus deliveries to California next year.
  • This means that roughly 800,000 acre-feet less water will be provided to California (An acre-foot is enough to supply two households of four people for a year).
  • This reduction in supply will initially be borne entirely by Metropolitan Water District (MWD). MWD delivers water to approximately 17 million people in southern California.
  • Colorado River water comprises 30% of these current deliveries (the rest come from local supplies and northern California).
  • MWD claims to have sufficient storage to make it through the next 2 years

Possible near-term consequences:

  • Imperial Valley Irrigation District (IID) farmers could attempt to circumvent IID and contract directly with San Diego for their water.
  • IID farmers could sue IID for failing to fulfill their trust responsibilities.
  • The California legislature might pass legislation dissolving IID.
  • The California legislature might pass legislation separating IID’s water and power divisions, making the water division solely responsive to farmers (by voting based on acreage).
  • The Governor could declare a state of emergency and temporarily reallocate water from IID to MWD.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation might review the reasonability of IID’s water use and reduce deliveries by 400,000+ acre-feet.

Consequences for the Salton Sea:

  • Either of the above could immediately reduce flows to the Salton Sea, increasing salinity and possibly shocking the system, increasing the incidence of dead birds and fish, especially over the longer term.
  • Such immediate reductions will also make it much more difficult to ever restore the Salton Sea as a whole
  • The Salton Sea is an inland body of water located near the Mexican border that is fed by agricultural flows from the Imperial Valley. Despite being fed by runoff, the Salton Sea is an important habitat for birds, fish, and other creatures.

Visit the Salton Sea Information Page


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