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Voice

Leimgruber says he is not an unqualified supporter of fallowing

October 30, 2001

In your Oct. 22 editorial, you caution me about considering fallowing a "viable" alternative. I agree with your regular opinions that our water rights must be protected.

The transfer of water to San Diego seems to be edging closer to reality. What is taking longer is our understanding of its ramifications.

On one hand, if we ask our farmers to be more efficient with pump-back and other irrigation systems, we will accelerate the decline of the sea and expose thousands of acres of the sea to the wind. Fixing some of these environmental impacts were estimated by one consultant to be $3 billion to $7 billion.

On the other hand, if we fallow, we minimize or eliminate environmental costs and then have "people" impacts. Those costs equal a few million dollars a year for the first couple of years of the water transfer.

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While the economic costs of fallowing are much smaller than the environmental costs of efficiency improvements, the toll on jobs in our depressed Valley economy must be taken seriously and addressed.

Hastening the decline of the sea and saddling farmers and the community with potentially massive environmental liability is not a viable option. Nor is permanent fallowing without addressing job impacts.

My hope is that the water transfer can be designed to provide farmers with the flexibility to free up water for the transfer without creating massive environmental liabilities. Changing farming practices or land use and building upon current practices, like rotating crops, are possibilities. If done right, there is enough money in the deal to not just address impacts on jobs but look for ways to strengthen our economic position.

Am I an unqualified supporter of fallowing? No. I believe that the water transfer ought to be designed to help diversify and strengthen our economy. And I do not think we should ignore options simply because of the baggage that came from the foiled plans of out-of-Valley profiteers.

WALLY LEIMGRUBER

County supervisor

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