Voice: IID board has opportunity in Palo Verde-type transfer

October 30, 2001

California has a water problem. Over the next 15 years California is required to reduce its over-consumption of Colorado River water. It has been using more than its legal share as the other Colorado River basin states used less than their legal share.

Now the other states want to begin to use their full allocation. However, they are willing to gradually increase their usage if California will begin to gradually decrease its usage to its legal allocation over the next 15 years, with required milestones to be met along the way.

As Colorado River water inflows to California decline, Southern California's huge imbalance between the distribution of its people and its water will be magnified even more The historical roots of this imbalance lie in the coastal population boom after the years Imperial Valley farmers and landowners established their senior water rights to most of California's legal share of Colorado River water. Thus, we now have the impetus for negotiations between the Valley and the coast to transfer water to where most of the people live and work.


A problem for Imperial County has been its economy. The production of agricultural produce has significantly shifted to Arizona, where taxes are lower and the business environment is more positive. Low crop prices, minimal business opportunities, meager job opportunities and high unemployment have characterized the Valley economy for years. The good news is we may be seeing the outline of a solution to these problems.

We appear to have a San Diego County Water Authority and Imperial Valley farmers/landowners willing to consider a new agreement based on the Palo Verde Irrigation District water transfer model with the Metropolitan Water District. For this to work, farmers/landowners need to receive the fair market value for their water as benchmarked in the PVID deal. Such an agreement will add a new cash crop (water) to the Valley's farming industry that will reinvigorate individual farming operations. This will accrue to the general benefit of the Valley economy.

In addition, SDCWA will need to provide funding that will offset any adverse third-party impacts that may arise in the Valley. Speaking in terms of the original transfer proposal in the Oct. 17 edition of this newspaper, Maureen Stapleton, general manager of SDCWA, cited the provision for community-based programs related to job-training, job-creation, education and economic development. This provision should be incorporated into the new PVID-type agreement, along with covenants protecting the Valley from any environmental liability.

Ms. Stapleton indicated SDCWA agreed to pay $50 million per year to cover these considerations in the original water transfer negotiation. This figure should be revisited in light of the fair market value for water, which has been only recently established by the PVID agreement, and in light of a new smaller-scale water transfer being considered.

Solutions will be found to the impending water squeeze and growing water imbalances in California. The question remains as to the role to be played by the Imperial Irrigation District board. Will it just dig in its heels and try to block any water transfer? If it does, it will risk becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Such a posture will jeopardize the Valley's community and business interests of all stripes as it ignores the opportunities in a water transfer and arrays itself against state, federal and other county agencies seeking solutions to California's water problems. The board still has the opportunity to help represent the various interests of the Imperial Valley in a water transfer that can be beneficial to the entire Valley.


San Diego

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles