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Water Authority takes steps to resolve water lawsuits

 

Last updated 3/13/2020 at 2:52am



Jim Madaffer

Special to Village News

After securing more than $350 million for water supply projects in the San Diego region – along with other benefits – the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors Feb. 27 voted to dismiss related claims against its Los Angeles-based supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

This is a major step toward resolving the litigation, in which we claimed water rights and challenged water rates and charges imposed by MWD on the Water Authority and the region’s ratepayers from 2010-2018. The board’s action will allow the parties to avoid a trial scheduled for June 2020 and clear the way for judgment to be entered in the older cases.

While we have been seeking the region’s long-term interests in court, the Water Authority Board also has worked for more than three years to settle the lawsuits. In the past few months, those efforts gained momentum as we traded settlement offers with MWD. When those proposals didn’t produce an agreement, the Water Authority Board decided to take unilateral action consistent with its settlement offer and acknowledge actions by the MWD board.

Specifically, MWD’s board has approved funding three local water supply projects:

· $285.6 million for the city of San Diego’s Pure Water Project

· $23.6 million for the Fallbrook Groundwater Desalter Project

· $42.7 million for the city of Oceanside Pure Water and Recycled Water Expansion Phase I

In light of that funding, our 36-member board – representing all 24 member agencies in the region – carefully weighed our options, including whether more settlement negotiations would be productive at this time. We had hoped for a comprehensive settlement, but we ultimately decided that the most efficient path forward right now was to acknowledge the actions MWD has taken by dismissing the related claims in the litigation.

This approach will not end the cases, but it will streamline them and allow them to be concluded more promptly, while continuing to protect San Diego ratepayers both today and in the future.

As we work toward ultimate resolution of the cases, it’s important to remember that the litigation produced significant new water rights for San Diego County – approximately 100,000 acre-feet a year, equivalent to about twice the annual production of the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project.

We also expect a recovery of about $80 million, plus avoided payments of more than $80 million from 2018-2022 because MWD suspended these charges, for a total benefit on this claim of more than $160 million. These improper charges would have cost local residents more than $500 million over the life of the Water Authority’s water delivery contract with MWD.

More broadly, our board’s action highlights the Water Authority’s commitment to work on critical issues at MWD, including updating MWD’s water resource and long-range financing plans, as well as advancing other policies and programs that promote long-term water supply reliability for San Diego County and the rest of Southern California.

Jim Madaffer is the chair of the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors.

 

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