Blueprint Executive Director Austin Ewell (left) and Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil (right) displaying the recently signed MOU. 

By Scott Hamilton, President, Hamilton Resource Economics 

On May 8, 2024, in Sacramento, representatives for the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley (Blueprint) and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU). The purpose of the MOU is to establish the intent of collaboration between the Parties to identify, develop, and implement projects in the San Joaquin Valley that have mutual benefits for managing water supplies, including storing and recovering water.  

Many areas within the San Joaquin Valley face significant water shortages and/or lack the funds to build the infrastructure needed to convey and recharge high-flow water. With too little money and too little water, these areas face an uncertain future. The State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) has come out aggressively by putting the Tulare Lake Subbasin on probation, charging $20/af to pump groundwater and $300/well/year. Those fees just cover administrative costs. None of that money will be used to improve water supplies. The reality is that if landowners don’t take the initiative to improve the sustainability of the groundwater, the State Board will step in and provide more costly solutions that are likely not nearly as effective as what the water districts would do themselves. What solutions exist for districts with limited funds and insufficient water? 

Metropolitan has been banking water in Kern County for decades now, with programs in Arvin Edison, Semitropic, and Kern Delta water storage districts. The original fears that Metropolitan would adversely impact groundwater users through these programs have proved unfounded. Rather, in some cases, the programs bring in more water than they take out and provide a new source of funding for infrastructure. After three years of severe drought that led them to the brink of extensive and severe water rationing, Metropolitan is looking to increase the reliability of its supply. Currently, they are exploring surface and groundwater storage opportunities and aspiring to broaden their portfolio of projects. In some years, Metropolitan’s diverse water supply portfolio supports storing water when the State Water Project (SWP) allocation exceeds 30% – meaning the agency can potentially have access to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water that can be stored for later use in a dry year. In 2023, they had no place to put 400,000 acre-feet of SWP water. They are looking to change that. 

With Metropolitan’s desire for collaboration and ample water supplies in wetter years, the potential exists to develop programs to provide needed water and infrastructure for Valley water districts. In return, Metropolitan would exchange wet year water for reliable supplies during dry years, thereby helping to improve their water supply reliability.  

The basis of the MOU is a framework for Metropolitan and the Blueprint to work together to potentially identify and evaluate suitable areas for water banking and additional conveyance facilities if needed. If any potential projects appear feasible, Metropolitan and the Blueprint could pursue discussions with San Joaquin Valley water districts to gauge interest in pursuing a project.  

Terms for potential projects, such as size, duration, potential minimum and maximum storage, and recovery amounts, would be negotiated between interested parties and Metropolitan. 

In his comments at the MOU signing ceremony, Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager of Metropolitan, said, “…that through these programs Metropolitan seeks to connect the drops, the dots and the hearts…” – meaning interconnecting water supplies, building conveyance and uniting people behind a common vision. The hope is that the MOU is a significant and historic step forward in bringing needed water resources to the valley and water supply reliability to southern California. 

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