Our Opinion: A dangerous idea

June 02, 2001

It seems the concept of permanent fallowing of Imperial Valley farmland will never go away. The latest discussion has been prompted by the effort to reduce salinity in the Salton Sea. We support the effort to save the sea, but we think a project that includes permanent fallowing of farmland is dangerous. The sacrifice may be too great, and we urge those involved in the project to consider all the ramifications of permanent fallowing.

There are different methods for reducing the salinity in the sea that are being tested. The one that would involve permanent fallowing calls for using solar evaporation ponds to collect sea water. The water would flow from one pond into another and in each pond the concentration of salt would become higher as the water evaporates. Ultimately, the goal is to collect enough salt in the evaporation ponds so that the amount of salinity in the rest of the sea would be reduced.


It sounds like a good idea and it is a good idea, but not if it means taking farmland out of production. We have to wonder if there is some other way to move ahead with that method without eating up farmland. We understand from officials with the Salton Sea Authority that there might be non-farmland upon which at least a portion of the ponds could be built. That seems like a better alternative.

However, if that is not realistic and farmland is the focus for the success of the evaporation ponds, then we urge caution.

We understand that some fallowing takes place in the Imperial Valley every year. There is some farmland that is simply not being used for farming. The difference is that is not permanent fallowing. That land can be brought back into production at any given time.

If the ponds are built on farmland, that land is not going to be brought back into production. The evaporation ponds, according to estimates, could take up to 40,000 acres of farmland. Water saved from taking the land out of production could go toward replenishing the sea, which could face a loss of water as the Imperial Valley moves ahead with a water transfer to San Diego.

Again, we don't want to see the sea hurt by the water transfer, and we want to see the salt issue controlled. However, we have to take into consideration the effect on those who depend on the farming industry for their livelihood, and that list only begins with farmers themselves. Scores of businesses rely on farming to remain solvent. What would happen to those businesses if more land is taken out of production? How would those affects be mitigated? Maybe farmers would be paid for leaving the land fallow, but others tied to the farming industry would not, and that affects us all.

Some prices are just too high, and this may be one such case.

That said, we are confident those with the Salton Sea Authority are going to study the issue closely. While they want to save the sea, we don't believe they want to harm the Valley. It is difficult balance but balanced it must be.

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