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Alamo River silt reduction draft draws complaints

May 25, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Poor timing, prohibitive costs and questionable science were common complaints against a total maximum daily load draft ordinance at a public workshop Thursday.

Imperial Valley farmers and other interested parties filled Imperial Valley Expo's Plaza de la Cultura to listen to and give opinions on the Alamo River silt TMDL draft.

The TMDL, part of the federal Clean Water Act, is implemented through the state Water Resources Control Board's Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The Alamo River silt TMDL aims to reduce silt and sediment in the Alamo from 400 milligrams per liter of water to 200.

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"I'd really like to see them delay (required implementation) for 12 months," said local farmer John Pierre Menvielle after the workshop.

Menvielle said he'd prefer the delay so other projects affecting water use of local farmers could move forward without simultaneous complications from TMDLs. Those projects include the Imperial-San Diego water transfer, Salton Sea restoration and the reduction of California's use of Colorado River water, Menvielle said.

Elston Grubaugh, principal engineer with the Imperial Irrigation District, said the habitat conservation plan required to mitigate environmental impacts of the water transfer addresses some of the same issues as the TMDL but in different ways.

"Whoever gets there first sets the precedent" as to how those issues are handled, Grubaugh said after the workshop.

Implementing TMDLs first would complicate the habitat conservation plan and "could kill the transfer," Grubaugh said.

Dave Smith, Region 9 TMDL coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said asking for a delay may be a moot point since it could take a year to get final approval from the EPA anyway.

"Another concern is the impact on water users," Grubaugh said.

Farmers, facing water price increases July 1, "already have it difficult," Grubaugh said.

The regional board said implementation of silt reduction measures would add 1 to 2 percent to their production costs.

Grubaugh and others pointed out that 1 to 2 percent cost is a big amount when farmers are working on a 2 to 4 percent profit margin.

Juan Guerrero, farm adviser with the University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension, presented a table of crop budgets showing that except for two crops, local growers are losing money.

"Imposing more costs is like adding salt to a wound," Guerrero said.

"We're just being rolled over without adequate time to respond," Guerrero said.

The draft was released last month and final written comments on it are due June 12. At a June 27 public hearing, the water quality control board is expected to vote to finalize the regulations.

"Their goals are noble and good but the rush doesn't mean we have to sacrifice good science," Guerrero said.

Guerrero said the science used in the draft includes fish study samples that aren't big enough to be representative and a study from the 1960s that looks at European trout and salmon streams.

"They should work with scientists dealing with warm water species," Guerrero said.

Bill DuBois, an El Centro landowner, questioned the logic behind the imposition of TMDLs on the Alamo River in the first place.

"The Alamo River's beneficial use is what it is, that is, as an agricultural drain. It has always, since the Imperial Valley was irrigated, served as an agricultural drain ditch. It has always carried silt," DuBois told Thursday's audience.

"These are attempts to upgrade a manmade drain ditch into a fishing stream, a purpose for which it was never intended or designed," DuBois said.

"Many people have the wrong impression of farmers," DuBois said after the workshop.

"We're not anti-ecology; we're just asking for decent science," he added.

With a dozen TMDLs on the way, this is just the start.

"It makes me feel like an onion, getting peeled one layer at a time. First this silt TMDL, then the salt TMDL, then the nutrient TMDL, then the following 10 more TMDLs the staff here has admitted they are preparing to impose on us," DuBois said at the workshop.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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