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Our Opinion: No transfer windfall to the community

November 27, 2001

Since talks began about the potential for transferring water from the Imperial Valley to the state's coastal cities, there's been an assumption that the community would be negatively affected by the transfer and, therefore, should be compensated, or at least somehow benefit from it.

Such feelings came through loud and clear last week when Imperial Irrigation District Director Stella Mendoza said the community ought to be on the receiving end of 25 percent — not 5 percent, as being discussed — of the revenues from the sale of water to San Diego.

We think it is premature for the community to line up with its hands out.

To toss around such numbers at a time when no one knows what the actual price of conserving an acre-foot of water will cost, nor the actual price to be paid for that acre-foot, seems unrealistic, especially when some people have long been ready to line up to receive cash payments or checks: their purported share of the transfer.

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Frankly, we think it is going to be the farming community that is most at-risk in the transfer. Without knowing what price San Diego will pay for an acre-foot, without a minimum price for water, with the potential for renegotiating the price downward in year 10 of the transfer, with the legal title to thousands of acres of farmland encumbered in order to participate in the transfer, and the unknown cost to the farmer, we can't help but wonder how many farmers are going to sign up for the transfer at all.

Even under rosy conditions as discussed in the transfer documents, it could take 10 years before a farmer sees any kind of positive return on his investment, and what that return might be is anybody's guess.

We think it's too long, likely too little and with too many unknowns. We still think fallowing is wrong. What we want is to see a better setup for farmers, where they could make money from on-farm conservation sooner rather than later or never.

Returning to our main question: How much should the community be compensated?

The same amount it is investing, with a small incentive amount; just like the farmers.

Since the community is not investing anything, there goes that. What remains is what should the community get as an incentive?

We think the incentive should be the exact opposite to what the community would have lost if fallowing were allowed for the transfer: a non-loss of jobs and a non-impact to third parties.

We think the community will benefit under the transfer through new jobs created by the construction of new on-farm conservation measures.  We think a rising tide lifts all boats.

Further, the IID's water-delivery system is quickly becoming antiquated and as much money as possible should go toward upgrading a crumbling infrastructure.

The only remaining question is why should the IID Board of Directors not increase the cost of an acre-foot of water, thus forcing farmers to conserve; as Mendoza said, "supply and demand."

Well, for one thing, IID cannot arbitrarily raise the cost of water. It is a non-profit agency and the cost of delivering free Colorado River water — and it is free to all users — can only cover needed expenses, including operations and maintenance.

It's time for the community to join hands with the farming community and realize that the transfer will fall hardest upon the farmers and that what's bad for the farmers is bad for the Imperial Valley.

Pull your hand back and get on board.

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