Peace in the Valley

East Bay MUD reaches historic agreement with San Joaquin County and valley water agencies

After decades of dispute, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and several San Joaquin Valley water agencies have reached a historic agreement to cooperatively manage supplies in and around the Mokelumne River watershed. It looks like a great deal from all perspectives.(We have posted the deal itself, a fact sheet and the press release.)

The agreement is complex. The basic principal, however, is that if the agencies work together, they will be able to recharge the region’s depleted aquifer in wet years and thus have additional stored supplies on which to draw in dry years. It’s a cost effective way to increase storage capacity without the expense or environmental impact of building a new dam. If the parties can successfully work together, the agreement could be expanded – and perhaps an estimated 1,000,000 acre-feet of depleted aquifer capacity in the region could be recharged.

While the well-worn adage “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over” often holds true, many agencies that have historically been in opposition are working together today. The doors that were literally slammed in the faces of Metropolitan Water District officials a few decades ago are now often open, and dollars from urban southern California are improving irrigation efficiency and groundwater management in the Sacramento Valley. In the early 1990’s, Kern County Water Agency threatened a lawsuit over the higher priority accorded to the State Water Project’s urban customers. Today these urban agencies have invested in Kern County’s groundwater banks. And in 2014 the Bay Area’s largest water agencies formed a “Regional partnership” to “work cooperatively to address water supply reliability concerns”.


The level of cooperation has improved markedly, but it would be incorrect to infer that all California water agencies are effectively working together. Recent efforts between San Francisco and water agencies in and around the Tuolumne River watershed have not yet succeeded, in spite of the potential to improve groundwater management in that portion of the San Joaquin Valley.

We have noted many times that the additional water supply necessary to make the restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park possible is relatively small – much less than what has been required to protect endangered salmon or restore Central Valley wetlands, Mono Lake and the Trinity River. But some additional supplies will be needed and the most cost-effective opportunities may well be similar to this recent example set by EBMUD and San Joaquin Valley water districts.


“I pray no more sorrow and sadness or trouble will be
There'll be peace in the valley for me”

("Peace in the Valley" was written by Thomas Andrew Dorsey - known as "the father of black gospel music" and not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey of the big band era)