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Our Opinion: A selection affectign us

January 05, 2001

President-elect George W. Bush has nominated Gale Norton to be U.S. Department of Interior secretary. Imperial Irrigation District officials think she could be a good choice.

We foresee that Norton will have a bit of learning curve to get up to speed on issues critical to us, but she is from Colorado and that could help her in efforts to finalize what Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has brokered regarding longstanding peace between western states and Colorado River water agencies. If the deals are to come to fruition, it would be during Norton's tenure.

While Norton will have much to do, we would urge her to place some early focus on the issues critical to the Colorado River. IID is trying to wrap up its agreement to ship 200,000 acre-feet per year of water to San Diego. For that to happen, IID must work out critical issues including how much mitigation U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials will require and how much all that will cost. If the cost is too high, it may be difficult if not impossible to seal the water deal.

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The death of the water transfer is not a wonderful option for any parties involved. We agree with those IID officials who say Norton could play a key role, since U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services would be under her purview.

IID Executive Officer Brad Luckey said based on the information he has gathered on Norton, she would be the kind of Interior secretary who would not allow the closure of portions of the Imperial Valley Sand Dunes. While those closures may be a done deal, Norton could prevent future closures. The closure of further sections of the dunes could hurt the Imperial Valley economy by making the dunes less luring to off-road enthusiasts. Luckey also said he thinks Norton would allow people to be part of the decisions that affect their lives.

We would urge IID officials to try to meet with Norton as soon as possible to talk about local issues. There is a lot to be done and some decisions will need to be made quickly.

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