Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
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San Diego County Water Authority v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, et al.

Current Status
From 2010 to 2014, the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has filed three lawsuits against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over water rates approved by Metropolitan’s Board of Directors.

Trial on the two remaining claims in the 2010 and 2012 cases occurred March 30, April 1-2, and April 27-29. The court's decision is expected in summer 2015.

Metropolitan obtained the dismissal of four claims in SDCWA’s 2010 case before trial (breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, a challenge to a Rate Structure Integrity provision in contracts, and a claim that Metropolitan’s rates violate Proposition 26).

In December 2013, the final hearing/trial on SDCWA’s rate claims in the 2010 and 2012 cases took place. In April 2014, the trial court issued its decision, ruling in SDCWA’s favor on two claims and in Metropolitan’s favor on one claim. The court found there was not sufficient evidence to support allocation of State Water Project transportation costs and the Water Stewardship Rate to Metropolitan’s transportation rates rather than its supply rate; and rejected SDCWA’s claim that Metropolitan’s rates do not properly account for “dry-year peaking” costs. The trial court’s rulings are not binding and only a final appellate court decision has binding effect. Metropolitan disagrees with the rulings against it and is confident that the appellate court will reverse. Moreover, only Metropolitan’s Board of Directors, not a court, may re-set Metropolitan’s rates.

The next phase of trial concerns SDCWA’s claims for breach of a contract to exchange water and miscalculation of preferential rights to purchase water. MWD presented evidence to establish that there has not been a contract breach and that its calculation of preferential rights is correct.

The 2014 case was filed on May 30 and is in its preliminary phase. The lawsuit contains rate claims and a breach of contract claim that mirrors the claims in the 2010 and 2012 cases.


Feb. 25, 2014
Metropolitan General Manager Releases Statement on Rate Case Tentative Determination by San Francisco Superior Court

Nov. 3, 2011 Letter to Chairman Foley regarding mischaracterization of group

Metropolitan’s Response to the SDCWA letter of March 28, 2012

Metropolitan’s Response to SD Union-Tribune’s March 13, 2012 editorial

Letter from Member Agency GM's regarding Metropolitan’s rate structure (June 1, 2010)



Metropolitan News Releases

News Articles

Legal Documents

Metropolitan Water Rates

Pricing Water Fairly in Southern California

As the primary provider of imported water for a six-county region, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and its Board of Directors must fairly allocate the costs of water through its rate structure. More than 15 years ago, Metropolitan began a comprehensive three-year process with extensive public input to develop a new regional pricing system for its 26 member public agencies that provide water to nearly 19 million residents. The new pricing system was put into effect in 2003. After seven years, SDCWA, a member agency, first sued Metropolitan to challenge the allocation of costs within its rate structure. Each of SDCWA’s three lawsuits (2010, 2012, and 2014) challenges Metropolitan’s rates for the subsequent two years. Numerous member agencies have joined the cases in support of Metropolitan .

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At Issue: San Diego’s Above-Market Water Purchase

A key issue and motivation for SDCWA’s lawsuits is SDCWA’s agreement to purchase conserved water from the Imperial Irrigation District (IID). SDCWA chose to pay more for IID water than it would for Metropolitan’s water, supposedly to achieve a degree of water independence and additional reliability. However, SDCWA has no pipeline network to transport this water from IID to San Diego County – although it could have and still can choose to construct one – so it currently can only use Metropolitan’s facilities.

Metropolitan agreed to accommodate SDCWA’s request to exchange the IID water plus canal lining water for Metropolitan water, at a set price that SDCWA proposed based on Metropolitan’s rates. Metropolitan provided SDCWA with valuable benefits as part of this agreement: $235 million and nearly 80,000 acre-feet of canal lining water per year for 110 years.

While the IID and canal lining water comes from the Colorado River Aqueduct, the water that Metropolitan delivers to SDCWA in its place  – often before SDCWA has made water available to Metropolitan – has less salinity and is a blend of both Colorado River and Northern California water.

Through its lawsuits, SDCWA now seeks to change the agreed price for the exchange water, by arguing that Metropolitan’s rates are unlawful. SDCWA’s lawsuits seek to shift SDCWA’s agreed cost for the exchange water to consumers in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. SDCWA claims this cost is over $150 million to date, and could amount to over $2 billion over the contract term. Of course, consumers in those areas are not inclined to fund SDCWA’s business decision to pay more to purchase and exchange IID water.

Transporting Water: The Primary Cost

The bulk of the water that Metropolitan delivers comes at relatively little cost for the water itself; the cost is in the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities to transport and deliver the supplies. Metropolitan gets its water from the Colorado River – over 200 miles to the east – and from the State Water Project’s Feather River system in Northern California – over 400 miles away. This water moves through a complex system of pipes, canals and aqueducts. The water is lifted hundreds of feet over mountains and hills by massive pumps. To fund and maintain the State Water Project transportation system, Metropolitan must pay significant fixed transportation costs to the state every year, regardless of whether Metropolitan receives any water. SDCWA’s lawsuits seek to avoid paying its share of building and maintaining this transportation system – at the expense of the system’s other users.

Water’s Real Costs

Metropolitan sets rates through an open and transparent process that assures equity and fairness throughout its 5,200-square-mile service area. Metropolitan’s Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from each of Metropolitan’s 26 member agencies, thus representing the region as a whole. The member agencies rely on this rate system to evenly collect costs across the region. The water system funded through these rates provides Southern California with a reliable supply of high quality water that benefits all residents and businesses and serves the region’s $1 trillion economy.

Metropolitan’s rate structure separates or “unbundles” its rates and charges to provide transparency and clearly show what service member agencies receive, what that service costs and what they pay for it. As an example, the cost to transport water is paid in part through the System Access Rate, reflecting the cost of operating, maintaining and investing in the basic infrastructure. In addition, the System Power Rate collects the cost to pump water through the Colorado River Aqueduct and from Northern California. Also, all Metropolitan deliveries include the Water Stewardship Rate, which funds Metropolitan’s conservation, recycled water and other local resource development programs. Those programs create capacity in Metropolitan’s system to enable delivery of additional water, such as the exchange water, and avoid costs to build and maintain further transportation facilities. Metropolitan also has a Water Supply Rate, reflecting Metropolitan’s cost to acquire water.

In addition to challenging why it should share in the cost of building and maintaining the necessary water transportation system, SDCWA argues that it should not have to pay the Water Stewardship Rate as part of Metropolitan’s transportation (delivery) charges. Exempting SDCWA’s exchange water from these charges would simply mean that everyone else outside of San Diego County would have to pay more for conservation, recycling and other local resource development, as well as for operating and maintaining a reliable delivery system.

At Risk: A Regional Approach to Water Reliability

Metropolitan has built and funded a water supply system that is the backbone of the region’s $1 trillion economy. This complex system has been built and maintained over more than 80 years through Metropolitan’s cooperative, regional, cost-share model. SDCWA’s lawsuits seek to undermine this proven and successful regional approach and replace it with cost-shifting strategies that attempt to benefit one community over another. Outside of San Diego, there is overwhelming support for Metropolitan’s current rate structure which reflects an equitable and regional approach.


June 24, 2012
Riverside Press-Enterprise, Op-ed by Joe Kuebler and Tom Evans
End big campaign to shift water costs Inland

April 30, 2012
The Planning Report, by Professor Steve Erie
Imperial Irrigation District Transfer, Not MWD, Drives Rates in San Diego

March 23, 2012
Read Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger's response to San Diego Union-Tribune's March 13, 2012 editorial

March 8, 2012
San Diego Union-Tribune, Michael Gardner and Mike Lee
Campaign slams regional water district 

Union Tribune, Michael T. Hogan
Split decision in water rate case


November 23, 2011
Read Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger’s response; Lawsuit undermines regional approach

November 13, 2011
North County Times and The Californian, Editorial
Fair Flow

Read Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger’s response (scroll down to “Setting water rates best done through democratic process”).

June 15, 2011
Read Metropolitan Board Chairman’s statement in response.

October 14, 2010
San Diego Union-Tribune, Op-ed by Jeffrey Kightlinger
Mud in the Waters: Law Firms Win, Ratepayers Lose

August 6, 2010
San Diego Union-Tribune, Op-ed by Timothy F. Brick
The true price of imported water


Page updated: May 7, 2015