In 2018, California continued to implement conservation measures to reduce the state’s demand for Colorado River water.
In 2017, the state used 4 maf of water—the lowest figure since the early 1950s. This year, California continued to explore new ways to stretch its Colorado River supplies and maintain water use well below its full 4.4 apportionment.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California initiated first-ever lease agreements with farmers of Palo Verde Valley land owned by Metropolitan. While Metropolitan has had a partnership through its land management and fallowing program with the Palo Verde Irrigation District for more than a decade, the new lease agreements expand those efforts by providing financial incentives for farmers to switch to lower water use crops, which maintains the agricultural productivity of land Metropolitan owns.
A dozen innovative water-saving technologies received a financial boost through the latest round of Innovative Conservation Program grants, provided under a partnership between Metropolitan, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Western Resource Advocates, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Central Arizona Project and the Southern California Gas Company. From a drone that uses thermal imagery to detect leaks in water distribution pipelines to a tool that estimates how much water a home can save by switching to native and California Friendly™ plants, the grant recipients all offer potential new ways to permanently reduce water use in the Colorado River Basin.
The Coachella Valley Water District continued its rebate program to fund the costs of sealing uncontrolled flows from artesian wells and rebates to golf courses to replace turf with desert landscaping. CVWD and Reclamation, however, terminated the funding agreement for the Pilot System Conservation Program after it was determined that participation was exhausted. The program provided $1 million for rebates to farmers who irrigate with Colorado River water and convert their irrigation technique for permanent crops from flood to drip irrigation. For five years, half of the conserved water—5,000 AF—will remain in Lake Mead to help increase water elevation.
Water conservation continues to be ahead of schedule for the Imperial Irrigation District, one of the largest contractors of Colorado River water. With the end of IID’s agricultural fallowing program in the summer of 2017, the district has largely relied upon efficiency based on-farm and system conservation measures to meet its transfer obligations. It’s been so successful, the district created up to 80,000 AF of excess conservation in 2017 for storage.
During the year, much engineering and design work was done to plan for upcoming system conservation projects: a large reservoir, four interties, five seepage recovery projects and a mid-lateral reservoir. IID also constructed two new seepage recovery projects, upgraded a large reservoir, completed three intertie projects and automated 36 lateral headings for the discharge reduction program.
IID continued to assist the state as it worked to achieve measurable objectives toward its Salton Sea obligations. Additionally, the district continued to cooperate in the development of a Drought Contingency Plan, but without the benefit of an operating Equitable Distribution Plan in IID’s water service area due to a legal decision now on appeal.