The San Diego County Water Authority not only won $190 million last week from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, but may have also won $2 billion in future costs savings and another 5 percent of all “Met” water that is currently being wholesaled to the other 25 other Southern California water districts.
Metropolitan supplies water to 26 local agencies across Southern California, Those agencies distribute water to approximately 19 million Southern Californians. One of The Met’s largest customer districts is the San Diego County Water Authority.
But over the last five years, the Met and San Diego have been in a dysfunctional marriage. “The Met” supplies over 75 percent of San Diego’s water resources, but has been tacking lots of new fees for “service charges” on to San Diego’s wholesale delivery price. After years of complaining, San Diego filed a lawsuit two years ago seeking refunds and a larger allocation of water supply.
California Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled on Friday that San Diego County Water was billed $188 million of unjustified charges by Metropolitan related to Colorado River water purchased since 2011. But Judge Karnow also ruled that San Diego County Water Authority was entitled to a greater percentage share of Metropolitan’s total water resources than the 18 percent it currently receives.
The second phase of the trial, which will determine what additional percentage of Metropolitan’s total wholesale supply San Diego is eligible to receive, is scheduled to wrap up by Friday. A decision is expected to be rendered by the fall.
San Diego County Water Authority claims it has rights to just over 23 percent of Metropolitan’s water, according to expert testimony presented during the trial. Based on 2014 water sales, San Diego calculated that it should have been receiving about 90,000 more acre feet of Metropolitan water than the 670,000 acre feet it received in 2014. San Diego’s claims are especially strong, since the Met did not even present expert testimony at the trial to refute San Diego’s calculations.
To put all of this into perspective, an acre foot equals 325,000 gallons of water. That means that San Diego could receive another 29.3 billion gallons of water each year. That is more water than is expected from a new desalination plant that is expected to cost $1 billion to build.
Dennis Cushman, Assistant General Manager for County Water Authority, told the Voice of San Diego that Metropolitan had a “monopoly stranglehold” over San Diego’s water supply. Ever since 1991, San Diego has worked to break it.
Cushman believes that the decision in the first phase of the trial means that San Diego will save $2 billion in future costs for water and is well positioned to win a huge increase in the 690,000 acre feet of water San Diego receives from Metropolitan each year.