Time running out for conservation input

December 18, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Time is running out to give input on the rules to govern the program for conserving water on-farm for the Imperial Irrigation District/San Diego County Water Authority water transfer.

IID had a second recent workshop Monday and is expected to finalize the on-farm conservation guidelines in January, with one final workshop before final adoption.

The guidelines will cover all aspects of conserving water for those farmers interested in participating in the transfer program.

Some issues are expected to be set in stone while others are not.

Issues such as the price to be paid to farmers for conserving water, the length of the contracts between the participating farmer and IID and the volume of water to be conserved by each farmer would be set in stone.

The legally binding agreements would likely contain wording that would allow other issues to be changed if circumstances required.

A briefing on the guidelines was made by Elston Grubaugh, IID principle technical adviser of the resources planning and management department, who said the program still resembles what was presented to the public Nov. 19. Five issues of concern remain, however.


Those include:

· the maximum practical conservation obligation. Under the current proposal the limit would be 1 acre-foot per acre of land. The basis for the limit is to discourage fallowing while affording the opportunity to all interested landowners to participate.

The concerns are that there is the potential for increased water savings above the limit on high-use ground and such a limit might not be practical on low-use ground where a full acre-foot per acre could not be saved.

Options include limiting the conservation amount by percentage, eliminating those farms with an average of only 3 acre-feet per acre or use each plant's evapotranspiration, or water needs, for how much water would be delivered. Each option also has drawbacks.

· payment structure. The current plan calls for 85 percent of revenues to go to participating farmers and 10 percent to IID.

Farmers were asked if they would prefer to be paid an average of the percentage, that is, the same amount during the next 10 years or increasing payments as the price of the water increases. Another idea is to pay lesser amounts for increasing amounts of water.

· participant overruns. The current plan calls for overruns to be repaid the following year. Non-participants in the transfer would be hit up for the payback as it would be assumed that participating farmers were meeting their conservation goals as they would have less water delivered to their headgates.

An option would be to pay back the water over a three-year period with the potential for the debt to be canceled if there are surplus flows on the Colorado River.

· fallowing. The term remains undefined, but Grubaugh said he will likely use the term used by the Farm Service Agency: actively farmed. Under the current plan a farm would have to be actively farmed to receive payment for conserved water.

The concerns is that "actively farmed" is not well-defined. To ensure there is no fallowing, the district would have to trust the farmers, employ people to check each field or use the FSA approach used for federal programs.

· farm unit concept. The current program would establish a baseline quantity of water for each turnout combined into a total baseline for an entire farm.

The concern is there could be the perception of fallowing if fields are kept out of production.

The next workshop is tentatively set for 3 p.m. Jan. 14.

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

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