Expo gives international water experts chance to air differences

March 31, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

No one denies there are great challenges to sharing water from the Colorado River, the lifeblood of Southern California and Baja California.

No one denies the obstacles in the way of the much-heralded water transfer between the Imperial Valley and San Diego.

No one denies there still are water issues to be worked out between the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, areas that depend on the Colorado for agriculture.

Those issues were laid out during a panel discussion Friday at the Imperial Valley Expo in which leaders from the Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority and Baja California delved into the topic of water.

The workshop was sponsored by Imperial Valley United, a group formed to protect the Imperial Valley's water rights. The idea of a super water region was discussed, one that would bring together the Imperial Valley, San Diego, Mexicali and Tijuana.


Officials said despite the challenges facing all four areas, and the differences between each, it is possible to work together for the common good.

"Sometimes opportunities are right in front of our faces," said Maureen Stapleton, San Diego County Water Authority general manager.

"The regions represented here have the opportunity to develop a super region," she added, addressing the crowd in the expo's Preble Building.

Stapleton added, "We have to be thinking beyond the physical mountain ranges that separate us. We have to think of ourselves as one region."

IID Board of Directors President Andy Horne, who spoke after Stapleton, addressed the fact that while IID and the SDCWA have an agreement in which IID is to transfer water to the coast, water will not move until after environmental studies are finished.

Those studies could prove the water transfer will be a more expensive effort than initially thought.

"The big concern is the dollars involved," Horne said, adding if it is too expensive to mitigate environmental impacts of a transfer, the agreement will have to be re-examined or other sources of funding will have to be found.

One issue that could prove contentious between IID and SDCWA is the study being pursued by San Diego water officials on building an aqueduct to move water from the Imperial Valley to coast.

Horne said the IID board has officially taken a stance against the building of such an aqueduct. However, Horne said while at this time he cannot see the IID board supporting an aqueduct, he said in the future things could change.

He said if a way can be found to ensure an aqueduct to San Diego would not be harmful to the Imperial Valley, the board might support it. Still, he said that likely would be in the distant future.

Francisco A. Bernal Rodriguez, a public affairs representative for Mexico on the International Boundary and Water Commission, said it is critical that an international effort move forward to protect the water interests of communities on both sides of the border.

After the panel discussion, Rodriguez said, "What we are trying to achieve is the management of the lower Colorado River region, including Mexico."

He added, "We need to manage (the Colorado River) in an integral manner. We need to be aware of the problems that might come about and move in an integrated view."

Those in attendance addressed a series of questions to the panel.

One audience member asked if it would be possible to form a super region when the water to flow to San Diego is to move through a Metropolitan Water District aqueduct. The audience member suggested MWD could stand in the way of such a super region by having control over the movement of water.

Stapleton agreed, stating, "If our water is running through a third agency, that third agency could decide to refuse to move the water."

For that reason, she said, it makes sense the SDCWA study building its own aqueduct to move water. She said the SDCWA would not build the aqueduct with the idea of hurting the Imperial Valley.

"If it is not to the benefit of all four regions, it will fail," she said.

Imperial Valley United member Gene Brister asked Stapleton if the Colorado River basin states that depend on the river along with California would be angered by the building of such an aqueduct.

The basin states are Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and California. Those states are working on an agreement in which California would reduce its use of the river to 4.4 million acre-feet per year.

Stapleton said the six basin states — not including California — have a great deal of power.

She said more important than the aqueduct issue, if California fails to reduce its use of the Colorado, the six other basin states will lose their trust in California.

She said for that reason the plan to reduce California's use of the Colorado is crucial and the elements involved in reducing that use, such as the water transfer between the IID and San Diego, need to happen.

After Friday's discussion, Stapleton said if California succeeds in reducing its water use, the other basin states could look more favorably at a new aqueduct.

Also at the event was Mexicali Mayor Victor Hermosillo, who told those gathered there is much work to be done to form a super water region.

"We have to do a lot of things we are not doing right now, "Hermosillo said, adding, "We have to think about a 100 years from now."

Stapleton said the obstacles facing the Imperial Valley, San Diego and Baja California may seem overwhelming, but if the parties remain focused on the process at hand, a super water region could be possible.

"You have to have belief in the process and the ability to collectively improve all our situations," she said. "I have a belief we can get through this."

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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