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Letter undermines water transfer efforts


September 11, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — The Imperial Irrigation District is threatening to limit its role in support of reducing the state's overdraw of water from the Colorado River unless it gets more support from the other south state water agencies.

The threat comes on the heels of an Aug. 27 letter written by the chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to the state's director of the Department of Water Resources.

The letter says the IID/San Diego County Water Authority water transfer will occur even without state and federal legislation to waive certain environmental laws introduced to help mitigate the environmental effects on the Salton Sea from the transfer. The letter further states that the benefit of providing surplus water from the Colorado River to California during the next 15 years — which in part depends on the success of the IID/San Diego transfer — will not be threatened.


"In my opinion, justifying a waiver of environmental laws because of an asserted threat to the guidelines is not necessary and may itself threaten a water transfer that otherwise enjoys broad support," the letter signed by Ron Gastelum stats.

The letter came to the attention of IID officials while attending a joint legislative hearing in Los Angeles last month where the four big Southern California water agencies presented a joint statement on the status of the quantification settlement.

The immediate reaction to Gastelum's letter led to him sending another, dated Aug. 31 clarifying MWD's support for the legislation and IID's efforts to facilitate the QSA.

"I feel like we are supporting and continuing to support it," Gastelum said this morning.

Despite the follow-up letter, IID officials think the damage has been done.

In response, IID General Manager Jesse Silva sent a letter to Gastelum describing the IID's "extreme consternation" with the matter and that MWD has undermined efforts by the other water agencies.

The letter states IID has been forced to expend an extreme amount of money and staff time in support of the QSA, and that because of Gastelum's letter, IID is no longer willing to take the lead role in the efforts and wants the other agencies to share in the costs.

"Accordingly, it is now essential to receive from MWD a written commitment manifesting MWD's support for a collaborative QSA facilitation process, including but not limited to necessary state and federal legislation, and a cost-sharing agreement," the letter states.

Gastelum said MWD officials have not discussed Silva's letter and Silva will be contacted regarding the sharing of costs.

Meanwhile, IID board President Andy Horne said MWD's first letter is contrary to the position taken by the other agencies, IID, the San Diego County Water Authority and the Coachella Valley Water District.

"(MWD's) letter means we don't know what's on MWD's mind," Horne said Monday. "Without the legislation, the QSA is dead."

Horne said IID has three choices in regard to the environmental effects of the transfer: pay for the full cost of environmental mitigation, get legislative relief or fallow farmland. He said the estimated cost of the environmental effects will be in the draft environmental study due out by the end of the year.

As a result of the needed legislation, two bills were introduced in the state Legislature. One of the bills would relax certain laws regarding the incidental "taking" of fully protected species as a result of the IID/San Diego transfer, while the other would relax the same laws statewide under other conditions. The bill related to the transfer was introduced by Assemblyman Dave Kelley, R-La Quinta.

"The Kelley bill is dead," Horne said.

Nancy Newbill, Kelley's chief of staff, said with the legislative session due to end Friday, the bill will be introduced again next year. She said language must be developed with which everybody can agree.

The bill was opposed by environmentalists, who said it was introduced too late in the session despite an ongoing dialogue between environmentalists and those favoring the bills.

Bill Allayaud, Sierra Club state legislative director, said the organization understands the tough environmental issues facing the state in its efforts to reduce its draw from the Colorado and that the state's fully protected species law is 30 years old and it might be time to reconsider it.

"That has to be done in an orderly manner," he said, adding to remove a species from the state's fully protected species list, there must be a recovery plan and a finding that the species has healthy numbers. "We're not able to do that with a lot of these things."

Allayaud said the actual condition of the species along the Colorado is unknown, and therefore the Kelley bill could not garner the support needed.

"We're willing to take a look at it, though," he said. "We were opposed to just gutting the fully protected species act but willing to sit down and see what we could do in terms of updating."

Allayaud said the environmental problems associated with the transfer have been known for years and it was unacceptable to expect environmentalists to support a bill introduced so late in the legislative session.

"We have to be a lot more orderly than that if they want to see the top environmental groups work with them side-by-side to solve the problem," he said, adding the group will work under the leadership of Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, to see if there is something that works for both sides in January. "There's no promises at this point."

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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