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Draft: Fallowing would hit economy hard

January 08, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

A preliminary draft of the socioeconomic impacts of the pending transfer of water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego states fallowing to generate the water would have the worst impact on the local economy.

If fallowing were used to generate 300,000 acre-feet of water yearly, it would result in the loss of 2,090 to 2,150 jobs, with an associated reduction in business output of $145.4 million to $149.8 million, according to the report.

By contrast, if all of the water is conserved on-farm, the report says the benefit would be an increase in 710 jobs with an associated increase in business output of up to $55 million. The report includes the estimated economic effects from other scenarios, including conserving only 130,000 acre-feet, conserving 230,000 acre-feet and no transfer.

Under the no transfer alternative, the report says existing regional economic conditions would continue, including the historic variation in agricultural employment levels.

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The environmental impacts of the various transfer alternatives are in a different section of the document.

The report — stamped "preliminary draft - not for public distribution," and dated Nov. 28, 2001 — is only one section of the transfer's draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement set for release Friday.

One water agency already has weighed in with its concerns about the complete draft EIR/EIS.

The Coachella Valley Water District sent a letter to the Imperial Irrigation District briefly listing only a handful of concerns that if not changed would likely result in the CVWD submitting negative comments in general.

"We have reviewed the administrative draft EIR/EIS and believe that it is inadequate for many reasons," the Dec. 28 letter states. "We were surprised that IID has chosen not to use the additional week … obtained to allow the draft EIR/EIS to be published on Jan. 18 (in the Federal Register) rather than Jan. 11, 2002, in order to improve it."

One specific comment surrounds the economic impact analysis, which the letter describes as "severely flawed," in that the analysis assumes if fallowing were used to generate water, the impacts would be less than stated because farmers would fallow cropland with the lowest net return per acre.

"The assumption, as stated, implicitly assumes that the net returns across all crops are equivalent, which is certainly not the case," the letter states. "In some instances, marginal lands on a given farm that are barely productive will also come out of production."

As a result of the letter, the draft EIR/EIS is being modified, and will be released on two dates. The state EIR is set to be released Jan. 18, and the federal EIS is set for release Jan. 25.

Locally, few people have seen the draft EIR/EIS chapter on socioeconomics.

IID Division 1 Director Andy Horne said it appears the impacts from a conservation program that uses fallowing would be significantly negative.

"I don't think that's a big surprise to anybody," he said, adding the IID is under continuing pressure to use fallowing to generate water for the transfer and to save the Salton Sea.

El Centro Mayor Larry Grogan has seen the draft chapter.

"Understanding it is a draft, I am extremely disappointed in it," he said, adding it was a difficult document to follow. "I thought the format was very poor."

Grogan said it is doubtful the transfer will move forward unless the Salton Sea is divorced from it and the fight over transfer revenues ceases.

Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn said he has not seen the document, but it seems unlikely the transfer will move forward in light of the "horrendously expensive" costs of environmental mitigation required.

"This thing's a dead dog," Kuhn said of the transfer. "It's not going to fly."

He said the transfer's environmental costs are so large even the San Diego County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will not want to help cover the expenses.

"It's got too much baggage on it," Kuhn said.

Directors Rudy Maldonado and Stella Mendoza said they have not seen the document, while Lloyd Allen could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, there are no socioeconomic impacts expected from the transfer on the Lower Colorado River region or in the San Diego County Water Authority service area, according to the document.

For the lower river, the document says to expect a slight increase in water levels between Parker and Imperial dams from the transfer but it would not adversely affect recreation or tourism activities. No new infrastructure development would be constructed and employment and population would not be affected.

Regarding the San Diego area, the document says the SDCWA would receive the same amount of water from IID that it purchased previously from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

"The objective for SDCWA is to increase the reliability of water supply for its service area," the document says. "No new storage or distribution systems would be needed in SDCWA's service area."

Further, the document states neither state or federal laws require mitigation for purely social or economic impacts unless there are related environmental impacts.

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

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