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Our Opinion: Wanting our water … again

October 22, 2001

Everyone wants our water all the time. The only thing that changes is people sometimes get a bit more ravenous.

They are ravenous now. This week a study was released that stated the "worst-case" alternative to saving the Salton Sea is fallowing 143,000 acres of Imperial Valley farmland and letting the water that would have gone to those crops instead go to rescuing the salt-soaked sea.

As much as we would like to see the Salton Sea saved, taking 143,000 acres, about a third of our farmland in the Valley, out of production would mean economic ruin for this area. The report came from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Salton Sea Authority.

While we think Imperial County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber is a good guy, his not shooting down that idea, and apparently giving it some credence, is a woeful error. He said in reference to the report that fallowing is a "viable alternative."

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Leimgruber should reconsider those statements, quickly. Fallowing is considered wrong-headed by many, and such a massive amount would be considered an outrage.

Do we save the Salton Sea and kill the Imperial Valley? That is exactly what such a scenario would do, because property values and commerce would dry up faster in the Valley than the abandoned farmland.

The study also says that if farmland that grew more than just hay were taken out of production to provide the 200,000 acre-feet set to be sent to San Diego in connection with a water transfer, 900 jobs would be lost. About 35,000 acres would have to be fallowed to get to that number.

Multiply that acreage by four and you get right around the "worst-case scenario" to save the Salton Sea. Multiply that job loss by four and it adds up to 3,600 jobs.

Those would be lost jobs here, in our unemployment-burdened Imperial Valley. Those would be lost jobs here, in our poverty-plagued Imperial Valley.

Chuck Nathanson, head of the San Diego "think tank" San Diego Dialogue, wrote in that group's October report that "in the near future, we need to begin transferring large amounts of water from the farming areas in the Imperial and Mexicali valleys to the rapidly growing urban areas along the San Diego/Baja California coast."

Pardon us, Chuck, but we don't "need" to do anything. We have both proprietary and historic rights to the water we use here in the Imperial Valley. If you want to back up your county to the Colorado River, as ours is, and back up the clock 80 years, your position regarding Colorado River might be stronger. Since that will never happen, you'll get what we are nice enough to give.

As for our close friends in Mexicali, your rights to their water are non-existent. Those are rights held in a separate, sovereign country.

We also don't appreciate Nathanson taking general shots in his column about reporting on water issues in this area. We cover water issues almost daily, and we think we have the best and most knowledgeable water reporter in the state, if not the West. We do think the water reporting in other area media is shallow and sometimes slanted, but don't lump us in with those outlets.

That aside, recent events just show we have what people want and they are willing to go to any means to get it.

Is that a surprise?

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