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Filner tours sea, vows to join efforts

November 20, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer
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SONNY BONO WILDLIFE REFUGE — Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, vowed to join the congressional effort to save the Salton Sea after he took a 40-minute air boat tour of the sea's south end Monday afternoon.

Filner represents California's 50th Congressional District.

The 50th had been a district solely encompassing the South Bay/San Diego area but it will include the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea after redistricting goes into effect in 2003.

Before Filner and Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, stepped into an air boat and pushed off from the dock, Kirk talked with Filner about the controversy surrounding the pending Imperial Valley-San Diego water transfer and the benefits and costs of proposals to fallow Imperial County farmland to mitigate the impacts of the transfer.

Kirk told Filner the issue boils down to getting Imperial Valley farmers to farm more efficiently or getting them to fallow farmland.

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Filner asked Kirk if there was a middle ground or if it was "either-or."

Kirk said almost every study has pointed to fallowing on some level.

To avoid the loss of jobs that accompanies fallowing, Filner said Imperial Valley farmers could be more efficient in their water use.

Kirk agreed but said conservation of water or high-tech farming methods that eliminate a good percentage of waste, or tailwater would have a disastrous effect on the sea.

He said there needs to be a steady flow of tailwater, the water left over after crops are irrigated, into the New and Alamo rivers to maintain an already precarious inflow into the sea.

Kirk said conservationists have a hard time with the issues surrounding the transfer and fallowing because being "conservation-minded," in this instance, isn't good for the sea.

After that comment, Filner coined a mock "campaign phrase" for fallowing: "Don't be efficient; just fallow."

While Kirk said the phrase sums up the unique situation here, he was unsure how it would play.

After the moment of levity, Filner asked Kirk if it was possible for local farmers to farm more efficiently, not fallow their land and save the Salton Sea.

Kirk said it would take a mighty congressional effort to secure additional water rights to the Colorado River for the Imperial Valley and the sea.

He said it would be tough to get any such legislation passed because the other states that use the water would object.

After their discussion, Filner and Kirk took a 40-minute trip to the sea's mudflats and checked out a wide array of biodiversity.

When he returned, Filner said the sea and fauna were "breathtaking" and added, "It is the responsibility of the federal government to save it."

As for how, he said, "I think if you have committed leadership and come up with something that brings all of the stakeholders together — you can get it done.

"(But only) if you realize that everyone has to take a share of the responsibility; not just the Imperial Valley but also San Diego County, state government and, certainly, federal government

"As I look out here and I see the quality and the quantity of the birds and the breathtaking panorama — we got to save it. We're going to figure out a way, working with everyone else, to do it," Filner said.

When asked how much it would cost the federal government, Filner said, "Hundreds of millions of dollars."

"But I don't think that's beyond the ability of Congress," he said.

While it hadn't been a huge priority for him as a San Diego area representative, Filner said he has discussed the sea with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and voted for the establishment of the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge.

"Intellectually I supported it but I had never had a stake in it. Now I do," he said.

Hunter, the Imperial Valley's current representative, has lobbied and secured federal funds to restore the sea for the past two decades.

Hunter has said he will continue to support saving the sea even though redistricting will slice off the Imperial Valley from his district in 2003.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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