MSWD vs DWA
The Battle for our Water
The Desert Water
Agency (DWA) is acting like they OWN our Mission Creek aquifer and
they don't even pump from it!
In 2015, as a result
of backroom lobbying efforts the Desert Water Agency (DWA) was given
by the State Water Control board, and they accepted, the status of
Exclusive Ground Water Sustainability Agency (GSA) over the service
area of MSWD. The DWA board had to vote to receive that status and
when that meeting occurred MSWD had our General Manager, our Board
President, and the DHS City Manager and Mayor speak in opposition.
We wanted DWA to meet with us and to talk it over. They ignored our
request and accepted the role of GSA over MSWD. We then filed
our lawsuit and proceeded to still "work things out" with DWA.
I was part of a mediation team that met with DWA for two solid days
with a retired Federal Judge going between us. The Judge
concluded we were far apart. Next, DWA sought to have our
lawsuit dismissed but the ruling was MSWD has a case and we are
going to court.
DWA only has two
possible arguments as to why they should be the GSA over our
aquifer: 1)"Mom said we could!" I.e. the State Water Control
board unknowingly gave them that authority without being aware of
the impact to MSWD. 2) We can manage the aquifer better! Yet,
MSWD has been managing this aquifer successfully for 65 years, long
before DWA came into existence. Not to mention that DWA does not
even pump from it. We will get our day in court to prove to a
jury that these two arguments just don't hold up.
What follows is a detailed historical timeline
of what has been going on.
• MSWD (formerly Desert Hot Springs County Water District) was
created in 1953, and has successfully and sustainably managed
groundwater for our community for approximately 65 years.
• In 1960 MSWD, Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Palm
Springs Water Company commissioned an engineering study to determine
how best to bring supplemental water to the Valley from the new
State Water Project.
• Desert Water Agency (DWA) was created to import State Water
Project water to the Coachella Valley, without interfering or
competing with MSWD’s or CVWD’s retail service.
• At the time DWA was created, MSWD annexed itself into DWA for
limited water importation purposes, but MSWD reserved its statutory
water management powers as a County Water District.
• DWA’s enabling legislation (the law that created DWA) makes clear
that MSWD would not lose any of its statutory powers by allowing DWA
to extend its boundaries to include MSWD, which was required to
authorize DWA to impose and collect taxes and assessments to recoup
the cost of imported water.
• MSWD receives and our rate payers pay for the supplemental water
imported by DWA, through a replenishment assessment (pump tax)
imposed by DWA.
DWA’S PRINCIPAL ACT PROHIBITS IT FROM IMPAIRING MSWD’S POWERS
SECTION 49: The …annexation…to this agency, of the corporate area of
any…public agency shall not…impair the powers of any such…public
This language ensured MSWD that its powers would not be impaired
simply because MSWD annexed itself into DWA’s boundaries solely for
water importation purposes.
2003/4 FIRST LAWSUIT AND SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
Although MSWD created DWA to import water:
• Between 1961 and 2003, DWA did not deliver supplemental water to
the Mission Creek sub-basin, which is the primary sub-basin this
community currently relies on for water. In 2003, MSWD filed a
lawsuit against DWA to force DWA to deliver water to Mission Creek
and Garnet Hill Sub-Basins, to replenish the groundwater MSWD relies
on for retail service.
• In 2004, MSWD, DWA and CVWD settled the lawsuit, by committing to
deliver supplemental water to Mission Creek and Garnet Hill
• DWA, CVWD and MSWD also agreed to jointly develop a water
management plan for Mission Creek and Garnet Hill sub-basins.
The Mission Creek/Garnet Hill Water Management Plan
• Pursuant to the 2004 Settlement, MSWD, DWA and CVWD spent years
and significant sums developing a Water Management Plan to
sustainably manage groundwater in the Mission Creek/Garnet Hill
• The Mission Creek/Garnet Hill Water Management Plan was adopted in
2013 by the Boards of all three agencies.
• By 2014, the parties settled their lawsuit, had jointly developed
a water management plan and were working together regarding
management of our water.
A New California Water Law (the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act “SGMA”) Became Effective January 1, 2015
• Under SGMA local agencies can become groundwater sustainability
agencies (“GSA”) within their service areas with power to determine
when and where water will be produced.
• SGMA listed DWA as the exclusive GSA within its “statutory
• It is unlikely legislators knew DWA would interpret SGMA in a
manner that involved DWA serving as the sustainability agency both
within its service area in the Palm Springs community and also
attempting to take control over groundwater management within MSWD’s
boundaries in the greater Desert Hot Springs area.
NOVEMBER 13, 2015 DWA BOARD MEETING
• DWA scheduled a hearing for Nov 13, 2015 to consider electing
itself the sustainability agency over its service area and MSWD’s
• Prior to the hearing, MSWD’s Board President sent DWA a letter
asking that DWA hold off on unilaterally electing itself as the
sustainability agency over MSWD’s area until the two agencies met to
discuss the proposed action.
• MSWD’s Board President, General Manager, Attorneys and Desert Hot
Springs’ City Manager attended DWA’s hearing and urged DWA to meet
with MSWD and DHS representatives before taking action to become the
exclusive GSA over MSWD’s service area.
• By a split vote, DWA’s board rejected the MSWD/DHS request for a
meeting, and unilaterally elected DWA as exclusive GSA over MSWD’s
service area, including areas within MSWD boundaries but not within
• MSWD had 90 days to then file its writ of mandate action, which it
did, but held off on serving until the parties were able to meet.
• MSWD and DWA met for months and attempted to negotiate a
resolution to their dispute.
• In late 2017, MSWD and DWA again met to discuss resolution, but
agreement could not be reached.
WHAT DOES MSWD WANT?
• To continue to manage groundwater within its boundaries, as it has
done for 65 years.
• This will allow the two competing retail agencies to manage
groundwater within their respective service areas, in cooperation
with the other Valley water purveyors, as they have done for
WHAT IS MSWD DOING TO ADDRESS DWA’S ACTIONS?
• MSWD has filed a lawsuit, which the court has ruled will proceed
• MSWD has met with state agencies seeking clarification that MSWD
should be the GSA within its service area.
HOW DOES THIS CASE IMPACT OUR COMMUNITY?
• If DWA’s tactics are not stopped, they will have the power to
decide where and when development can occur in the community served
by Mission Springs Water District (i.e. the greater Desert Hot
• This is perhaps the most important fight in which this community
has ever been involved.
• We are fighting for this community to maintain control over its
water and its destiny.
feel free to email me any questions you might have and I'll reply