Fallowing benefit: more jobs?

November 09, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Fallowing agricultural land to provide water for the transfer between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego County Water Authority would result in an increase in the number of local jobs, according to a government report.

The report, generated by a Bureau of Reclamation regional economist for the lower Colorado River basin and presented to the IID's water conservation advisory board, says about 300 net jobs would be created under certain scenarios.

Overall, about 500 jobs would result, including about 100 short-term jobs from the construction of solar evaporation ponds to remove excess salt from the sea.

The report was presented by Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.

Kirk said by fallowing flat crop ground to generate water for the pending transfer to San Diego, some of the revenues could be used to more than offset any loss of jobs. To get farmers to participate in the program, there could be incentives paid for each acre of land included as well as a certain amount for each acre-foot of water saved.


For example, farmers could be paid $550 for each participating acre of land, and $137 — from the sale of water to San Diego — for each acre-foot of water conserved.

The water transferred to San Diego is expected to sell for about $250 an acre-foot. Subtracting $137 for the farmer, that would leave $25 for the IID's loss of revenues from decreased sales of water and power generation. The remaining $88 per acre-foot could be used to the benefit of the community, according to Kirk.

That $88, times 200,000 acre-feet transferred yearly, results in $17.6 million yearly to the community. The money could be used any way the community decides. For example, each of the 366 workers projected to lose their jobs could be compensated with $15,000, and additional funds could be used to retrain them for other business or industry the money could be used to attract to the Imperial Valley. The study suggests $5.5 million yearly could be used for training, while $6.6 million could be used to attract new business through low-interest loans and reduced power and water rates.

Regarding the impacts of fallowing land, Reclamation regional economist Alan Kleinman — who conducted the study — said: "If you throw enough money at it, you offset the losses."

The loss of jobs was considered under two scenarios: fallowing 50,000 acres on which hays are grown — which is the preferred option, according to the report — and fallowing 50,000 acres of land at random with the full cross-section of crops.

Under the hay scenario, it is estimated 450 workers would lose jobs. Under the full crop scenario, about 1,400 jobs would be lost.

The loss of jobs through the fallowing of land upon which hays are grown would be equal to about 0.8 percent of the total county workforce.

The job loss from the fallowing of land upon which a cross-section of crops are grown would be about 2 percent.

The job losses are categorized as direct, third-party and induced. Third party are at the farm input level, while induced are considered those jobs lost from a reduction in the number of times money is spent in the community.

Short of fallowing, Kirk thinks the sea will die and that would harm the local economy even more. He said a revitalized sea would increase property values. A revitalized sea also would not be lost as a recreational area, which would happen with the collapse of the sea's environment.

The economic report estimates the recreational value of the sea results in benefits to the local economy of $8.1 million annually. If the sea were to collapse, that amount drops to about $2 million, while a revitalized sea would bring in about $15.5 million annually.

Finally, Kirk said the choices, while tough, are entirely up to the Imperial Valley community. He suggested the Valley take advantage of one of its most valuable resources. Should the IID/San Diego transfer fail, Kirk said a fight over the Valley's water could result, with the Valley losing and only attorneys winning.

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

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