Local agencies vie for a piece of the MWD action
Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/18/2011 10:12:16 PM PDT

When it rains, it pours.

Now that California’s drought is officially over, local cities are scrambling to find money to buy part of 225,000 acre-feet of water unexpectedly up for sale by the Metropolitan Water District.

And this excess water is being offered to local agencies at an 80 percent discount.

“Everyone was unaware that there is going to be that much water available as extra from what was allocated in the past, so no city, no agency had any money budgeted to pay for it,” said Bill Kruger, a Chino Hills councilman.

But no one will stay thirsty.

The Chino Basin Watermaster board – which oversees the massive underground water reservoir stretching from Pomona to Fontana and from the mountains to the Santa Ana River – is looking into ways to help its cash-strapped agencies buy 50,000 acre-feet of the water. An acre-foot – 325,851 gallons – is enough water to supply two typical households for a year.

Buying the excess water will save agencies from $852,500 to $4.47 million by 2013, according to the Watermaster’s staff report.

As one of the financing options, Watermaster has tapped Inland Empire Utilities Agency to foot the $21 million bill.

“(It’s) a significant amount,” said Thomas Love, IEUA’s general manager.

“Our board (of directors) is considering either dipping into its reserve funds or to issue a debt. Footing the bill is not exactly what will happen. We would pay for water as it’s delivered and then sell it back to municipalities over the next three years, to give them time to budget for it. We have already started taking the delivery as it takes several months to store it.”

Not only is the extra water available, but at $409 per acre-foot, it’s relatively cheap.

“It’s one of those opportunities that it would be almost criminal not to take advantage of it,” said Desi Alvarez, Watermaster’s chief executive officer. “$409 is very good. It’s the best price we’ll see for a long time. If you asked me two years ago, I’d say we’ll never see it.”

The MWD charges local agencies for its imported water on a multilevel price scale. Next year, for example, imported water will cost between $442 and $686 per acre-foot.

In fiscal year 2012-13, the Watermaster expects to purchase roughly 25,000 acre-

feet of replenishment water for its operations, at an estimated cost of $10.5 million.

“The availability of replenishment water provides Chino Basin with a singular opportunity to purchase water at a significant cost savings,” according to the Watermaster’s staff report about the purchase.

“The replenishment water has not been available by MWD for the last four years. As a result, when Watermaster has had to purchase replenishment water it was at a much higher rate.”

The influx of water on the market is caused by a combination of factors, MWD spokesman Bob Muir said.

The extremely wet seasons in Northern California and along the Colorado River have contributed to MWD maximizing its water supply levels.

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