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SDWAC optimistic despite water transfer costs

June 30, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Water Authority officials remained optimistic about the pending water transfer from the Imperial Irrigation District despite receiving notice that environmental costs may exceed the cap IID is willing to pay.

The IID Board of Directors sent a letter to SDCWA informing officials there that the cost of mitigating the transfer's effect on the Salton Sea and other environments may reach beyond the $15 million maximum limit IID is contractually obligated to cover.

"I think the IID wanted to clarify in writing a kind of reminder that their obligation is $15 million," said SDCWA General Manager Maureen Stapleton.

When asked who will cover the remaining costs to mitigate the transfer's effects, Stapleton said it's too early to say.

"That's probably premature until we find out how big a pill this is," Stapleton said.

The total environmental mitigation cost is not known yet though there is indication it could reach hundreds of millions of dollars. It is required by law that the environmental effects be mitigated for the transfer to occur.

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Stapleton pointed out the contract allows for financial backfill by agencies other than IID.

Stapleton said she thinks the letter left no confusion that IID's support of legislation that will, in part, secure $60 million for Salton Sea cleanup in no way impacted IID's $15 million cap.

"I feel each (agency) is working as hard as they can to make the Colorado River plan work," Stapleton said.

"I think each agency wants to live up to its obligation," she said.

IID Board President Andy Horne said that while there is no proof costs will go beyond $15 million, there are indications it will.

Under the contract, IID can abandon the transfer if environmental costs exceed $15 million. Horne said the letter was not a notification that IID is backing out but said that if the transfer is to happen some other agency will have to cover the extra costs.

Copies of the letter were sent to the Metropolitan Water District and Coachella Valley Water District who, along with the IID, are involved in the quantification settlement agreement that includes, among other things, the annual transfer of 200,000 acre-feet of water from IID to San Diego.

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

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