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.