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IID questions motive for Stapleton's visit

November 01, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Local concerns over an unannounced visit by a San Diego County Water Authority official to members of the farming community are not warranted.

Maureen Stapleton, SDCWA general manager, said she paid a visit upon request to members of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association and Imperial County Farm Bureau earlier this month.

"They wanted an update on where San Diego is on Colorado River and transfer issues," she said Wednesday morning. "To me it was a very simple request and I didn't think much about it."

Stapleton said she frequently visits groups interested in discussing those topics.

Members of the IID Board of Directors are not happy, however, that Stapleton made the unannounced visit to the Imperial Valley, and they are concerned that the SDCWA might be "meddling" in the affairs of the Valley.

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The accusation of meddling follows an Oct. 16 letter from SDCWA Chairman James Turner calling on the IID board to discuss such issues as "how the interests of Imperial's community, farmers, businesses and other stakeholders will benefit from and be protected by the water transfer, and … what is the best method of conserving water to meet those third-party impacts as well as environmental mitigation requirements."

IID board members said none of those issues are the business of the SDCWA and that the water authority is meddling in Valley affairs.

Division 4 Director Stella Mendoza said it was "inappropriate for Maureen Stapleton to come into the IID's back yard promoting San Diego's endless thirst for water."

Division 5 Director Rudy Maldonado said the two water agencies should sit down and lay out what the responsibilities are of each.

"We're trying to follow a process to move the transfer forward," he said, adding then it will be the IID board that will decide how proceeds from the sale of water to San Diego will be used. "That's their decision and no one else's."

Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn said the topics discussed between Stapleton and the farmers are not within the authority's purview and that San Diego has nothing to do with the issues.

"It's bunk, pure bunk," Kuhn said, adding Stapleton's actions were "very unprofessional."

Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen said it is IID's business how revenues from the sale of water to San Diego are spent, including how the revenues are distributed. He said IID knows better than the SDCWA how to make the on-farm conservation measures fair and as simple as possible.

Turner's letter was in response to an Oct. 8 letter from IID board president Andy Horne in which Horne summarizes certain arcane issues remaining to be resolved between the two agencies, but Turner's letter did not address any of the issues in Horne's.

Horne said the issues raised by Turner do need to be discussed locally and SDCWA officials have an interest in knowing the issues get resolved, but it is not "appropriate or productive" to discuss them with San Diego officials and they will not be discussed with them.

Meanwhile, in apparent contradiction to Turner's letter, an Oct. 17 letter to the editor of this newspaper from Stapleton states: "The SDCWA has said it before and we will say it again: It has always been and continues to be up to the Imperial Valley community, through the IID, to decide (1) whether or not any land fallowing should be part of the water-transfer program with San Diego, and (2) how the water-transfer proceeds should be allocated."

Stapleton said she does not see Turner's letter as meddling because San Diego officials have an interest in helping the IID board complete those remaining tasks to move the transfer forward.

"This is a partnership," she said. "This is a voluntary transfer between a voluntary seller and voluntary buyer, and both need to do whatever it takes to make it happen. But ultimately, how it's implemented and carried out is up to the IID.

"We are willing to help in any way we can," Stapleton said.

Stapleton's meeting with representatives of the Vegetable Growers and Farm Bureau covered a number of topics, according to IVVGA president John Hawk. He said they talked about the frustration felt by both parties over the state of the water transfer, and that the farmers complained they are not being included in discussions with the IID as the process moves forward.

"We don't know where we're at," he said, adding it will be up to the farmers to invest in any extraordinary conservation to generate water for the transfer and that environmental mitigation costs also will affect the farmers.

"The issue is we have to do the conserving and come up with the money to do the conserving," he said. "It falls squarely on the shoulders of the farmers."

He said the farmers and Stapleton discussed the fallowing program between the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Palo Verde farmers and that such a method of water conservation would be welcome here instead of the transfer.

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

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