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A Reader Writes by David Cason: A water transfer alternative

January 14, 2002

The following is an alternative to a transfer of water.

The plan starts by understanding that a northern portion of the Alamo River is about eight miles from the Coachella branch of the All-American Canal and that the Coachella branch in Riverside County is about seven miles from the MWD aqueduct. As you will see, there are many combinations that could be used.

Assuming the Salton Sea is dead.

A pumping station is installed just southeast of the Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge. From there the water goes through a filtration and desalination process. The cost of minor desalination and cleanup is small compared to what the water is worth on a retail basis in metropolitan areas minus the cost of building a new aqueduct. From 100,000 to 300,000 acre-feet annually can then be pumped eight miles to the Coachella Canal to be diluted with Colorado River water and delivered to a pumping station in Riverside County, then pumped seven miles to the MWD aqueduct.


Assuming the Salton Sea is going to live.

This is where it gets interesting. The above scenario occurs plus the following. Since it will be the state and federal governments that want the sea to live, they will have to be willing to build bigger and better desalination and purification plants. That way more water could be treated, some of which could be used to flow into the sea. Someone would set an elevation level at which the sea would be maintained.

The three months of the largest flow into the sea via the Alamo River are March, April and May. During those months, most of, or more water can be taken from the Alamo and stored in MWD reservoirs. The largest evaporation occurs from the sea during June, July and August. If needed during those months the federal government could release excess water from Lake Mead (if available) to be reverse-pumped from the Coachella Canal to the Alamo River to flow into the sea.

Let us remember why farmers have to run 15 percent tailwater. The salt content of 1 acre-foot of water is more than a ton. Every other water user upstream has polluted the quality of our water because the federal and state governments are not enforcing the federal Clean Water Act like they are in the Imperial Valley with the TMDL issue. Their pollution is overlooked because it flows back to the Colorado River and is diluted. If the governments force us to receive polluted water, why can't we deliver the same quality of water to someone else?

Most people have heard the term beneficial use in reference to our supposed waste of water. But what most do not realize is the Colorado River Compact actually states "beneficial consumptive use."

Most Colorado River water users divert much more water than they actually can use. Most have a natural, or a man-made channel to return any unused or excess water to the river. If Blythe diverts 5 acre-feet from the river and returns 2 acre-feet, then their beneficial consumptive use is 3 acre-feet.

The Imperial Valley diverts, on an average, 3.1 million-acre feet from the river annually and returns nothing for credit because we currently can't. So the Imperial Irrigation District is charged with 3.1 million-acre feet of "beneficial consumptive use."

Could IID build a pipeline back to the Colorado River and return the 600,000 acre-feet from the Alamo River and get a return credit? You bet. That would bring IID's "beneficial consumptive use" down to 2.5 million-acre feet, well below its "present perfected water rights," or the government could simply give the IID credit for the 1 million acre-feet that flows in the Salton Sea. That is, if the government wants the sea to live. If the government doesn't want the sea to live, then IID could still return that water to the river and the government could use it as part of Mexico's 1.5 million-acre-feet it receives annually.

I feel some plan similar to this one is feasible. I'm tired of all the talk of a billion-dollar pipeline to San Diego. I'm tired of hearing all the farmers arguing over a fair way to split up the transfer money. No one will ever come up with a 100 percent equitable way to split the money versus the amount of water one saves. Since more than 99 percent of the water that flows into the sea through the Alamo River comes from the agricultural industry, the sale of any water should be used to lower the cost of water to the farmer.

Our farmers have been paying for attorney's fees for way too long.

>> DAVID CASON is an El Centro resident.

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