The History of a Fluid Relationship

This thesis documents as a historical continuum the relationship between the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the nation’s largest water district by population served, and the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), MWD’s largest water purchaser among its 26 member agencies. That association has been marked over the years by alternating cooperation and conflict driven by perceived self-interest. As single purpose special districts with appointed directors and the power to raise their own revenues, MWD and SDCWA operate under less public scrutiny than general jurisdiction governments and have largely ignored competing societal interests in the pursuit of their mission to provide an adequate water supply for a growing population. Although they are united by a common goal, the differing positions of SDCWA and other MWD member agencies, particularly the city of Los Angeles, have led to decades-long battles over the need for and means of acquiring new water supplies and transmission facilities, the allocation of existing supplies, and the apportionment of costs. Those issues intensified beginning in the 1960s as environmentalism and growing water demands throughout the West made the water districts’ job more difficult and complex. As complexity and contentiousness increased, so did the role of agency staff, which assumed policy roles that had heretofore been the sole purview of part-time boards of directors. After drought curtailed water supplies in the early 1990s, a dissatisfied SDCWA began an ultimately successful effort to acquire a large additional water supply outside the MWD sphere, fundamentally altering the relationship between the two agencies.