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Our Opinion: Will new study be more reliable?

December 04, 2001

If we could accurately predict the future we'd be rich, and we'd get all the good-looking girls or guys, whichever we preferred.

Unfortunately the future is difficult, at best, to predict, even inaccurately, which brings us to the independent economic impact study being considered by the Imperial Irrigation District.

The IID Board of Directors, upon recommendation of its community advisory commission, is thinking about approving a new study to look at what the economic impacts of fallowing might be, as well as the possible economic impacts of potential water-saving measures on-farm.

All of this for the pending IID-to-San Diego County Water Authority transfer.

As far as we can tell, every economic study to date has been discredited. First, there was the Dornbush study, discredited because it only addressed pumpback systems. Then there was the recent Bureau of Reclamation study on the potential economic impacts of fallowing that claims the Imperial Valley would actually benefit from fallowing. Now — though it has not yet been released — is the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement. Its detractors are saying the data in the report are years out of date.

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We're not so sure an economic study can be had that will please those who apparently need to be pleased. It's like everybody wants a study that says the Valley will be destroyed or nobody will believe it.

One thing is for certain. We agree with CAC member Ike Adams that any study must be conducted by somebody who knows the Valley, knows agriculture and knows the difference between a pig and a cow.

Another problem with the proposed study is that until Jan. 11 no one knows what the draft EIR/EIS is going to say about the economic impacts of the various on-farm conservation measures. In the meantime, members of the CAC will be developing a scope of work for the new study.

As we said in a recent editorial, we think the transfer will benefit the county through the creation of new water-conserving jobs on-farm. We also think payments to farmers will benefit third parties.

Since fallowing appears to be out of the question, it doesn't really matter how it might affect the economy. Or does it?

A close look at the recently reintroduced on-farm conservation guidelines tells us that the water for transfer will be generated by delivering less to the farm's headgate. That is, a farmer who volunteers to save 1 acre-foot per acre per year will have that much less delivered to his headgate, based on his historical use.

At the same time, IID is going to let the farmer use any method to save the water except fallowing. Yet, is IID going to police a half-million acres of irrigable land to check what a farmer is doing, or is IID going to turn a blind eye?

A new economic study of the impacts of water-saving measures is fine. Let's just make sure — and we don't know how — that the study is acceptable so we don't continue throwing ratepayer money at new ones.

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