San Diego was featured prominently in a must-read story for water policy junkies in this month’s National Geographic. (Cool pictures, too.)

It asks this question:

The American West was won by water management. What happens when there’s no water left to manage?

The story offers insight about the future of water transfers between different agencies — and thoughts about a major transfer the San Diego County Water Authority was involved in.

The story looks at the Carlsbad desalination plant and suggests more like it may be coming:

In Las Vegas, [Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat] Mulroy envisions one day paying for such a plant on the coast of California or Mexico, in exchange for a portion of either’s share of the water in Lake Mead. “The problem is, if there’s nothing in Lake Mead, there’s nothing to exchange,” she says. …

A more obvious solution for cities facing shortages is to buy irrigation water from farmers. In 2003 the Imperial Irrigation District was pressured into selling 200,000 of its three million acre-feet of Colorado (River) water to San Diego, as part of an overall deal to get California to stop exceeding its allotment. San Diego paid nearly $300 per acre-foot for water that the farmers in the Imperial Valley get virtually for free. The government favors such market mechanisms, says the Bureau of Reclamation’s Terry Fulp, “so people who really want the water get it.” At that price, the irrigation water in the Imperial Valley is worth nearly as much as its entire agricultural revenue, which is around a billion dollars a year. But not everyone favors drying up farms so that more water will be available for subdivisions. The valley is one of the poorest regions in California, yet the richest farmers stand to benefit most from the sale. Many more people fear the loss of jobs and, ultimately, of a whole way of life.

ROB DAVIS

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