MWD Sees 'No Panic' in Supply Cutoff

Times Staff Writer

In their most optimistic forecast to date, officials of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said Monday that the district will be able to provide the region with an adequate supply of water for 20 years even without a deal to shift water from Imperial Valley to San Diego County.

The prediction came at a special meeting of the MWD board called to discuss the New Year's Eve collapse of negotiations among the Imperial, San Diego, Metropolitan and Coachella Valley water districts over the proposed Imperial Valley-San Diego water transfer.

The transfer is seen as an important step in reducing California's use of water in excess of its legal allotment from the Colorado River.

The collapse of negotiations Dec. 31 prompted the U.S. Department of Interior to carry through on a threat to reduce by half the amount of water that Metropolitan receives from the Colorado River.

Debra Man, the MWD's vice president for water transfers, said that plans for other water transfers, enhanced storage, desalination and conservation projects could compensate for the lost water for 20 years. This more optimistic view, Man acknowledged, assumes that Southern California receives at least an average amount of rainfall.

In the recent past, MWD officials have said that there is enough water storage for two to three years.

They have been less definite about the long-term ability of the agency, which provides water to 26 local agencies serving 17 million people, to find water to replace the loss of so-called surplus water from the Colorado River.

"There is clearly no panic here," said Ronald Gastelum, Metropolitan's president and chief executive officer.

The negotiations for the transfer of 200,000 acre-feet a year of water -- enough for 1.6 million people -- from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority broke down when the Imperial district added several conditions just a few hours before a deadline set by the federal government and other Colorado River states two years ago.

Gastelum said the district still hopes that the water deal can be completed -- and shipments of surplus water restored. But he said the conditions added by Imperial to a tentative agreement reached in mid-October are too expensive for Metropolitan to accept.

San Diego officials have wanted for half a century to cut their dependence on Metropolitan by having an independent source of water.

Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego district, said he was surprised to hear that MWD feels it can provide adequate water even without the deal.

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