EIR report: Limit water transfer to 130,000 acre-feet — and fallow farmland

January 20, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The best thing for the environment is that no water transfer take place.

That's what the transfer draft environmental impact report, released Friday, says. Short of no transfer, the next best thing for the environment is the transfer be limited to 130,000 acre-feet, and that the transfer impacts to the Salton Sea be mitigated through fallowing of farmland, system savings or on-farm conservation, with the resultant water going to the sea.

The draft EIR will take several days to fully reach the public.

The document addressed the transfer of water from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority.

The IID's two transfer negotiators said Saturday they have not seen the document.

"I hope it takes everything into consideration," said IID Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen.

Division 1 Director Andy Horne said he thought the draft would be available later this week.

"As soon as I get a copy I'll sit down and read it," he said.


Janice Collins, director of public affairs for the San Diego County Water Authority, said there were people reviewing the document Saturday.

"We're glad it's been released," she said, adding it will allow the public review process to begin, and the document's release is a required milestone of the so-called quantification settlement agreement.

The document lists four alternatives to what it calls the transfer project, or movement of 300,000 acre-feet of water out of the Imperial Valley. The water could go to San Diego — the best thing economically for the Valley, it says — or 130,000 to 200,000 could go to San Diego, and 100,000 to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Of the latter 100,000, the draft states it would be better if the water all went to MWD.

Under the transfer agreement, San Diego will pay market prices for the water. Under the QSA, which covers the third 100,000 acre-feet, MWD would pay more than Coachella.

The four alternatives are:

· no project, that is, no transfer.

· a transfer of no more than 130,000 acre-feet, using on-farm conservation only. The QSA would not be completed or implement. Environmental effects on the Salton Sea would be mitigated through fallowing. The definition of fallowing is "the nonuse of farmland for crop production in order to conserve irrigation water, on a short-term or long-term basis," the draft states. This alternative includes sending water to the sea for mitigation of water lost to the sea from the transfer.

· a transfer of up to 230,000 acre-feet. Of that, 130,000 would go to San Diego. The other 100,000 would go to Coachella and/or MWD. Under this scenario, the water would be saved on-farm through system savings or fallowing. Effects to the Salton Sea would be mitigated in the previous alternative.

· a transfer of up to 300,000 acre-feet only through fallowing. The draft recognizes that to use fallowing as a conservation method, the IID/San Diego agreement must be changed, as fallowing is prohibited under the agreement.

The draft states the IID/San Diego agreement only prohibits fallowing on the first 200,000 acre-feet of water that could be transferred. It also states the QSA does not prohibit fallowing. The IID/San Diego transfer agreement states a minimum of 130,000 acre-feet of conserved water must be from on-farm conservation, and "the IID covenants and agrees that fallowing will not be a permitted water- conservation effort under its contracts with its contracting landowners."

The draft also includes the expected socioeconomic impacts from the transfer, including fallowing.

It states the best economic case is the water be conserved using on-farm methods. The draft includes which methods are authorized.

The socioeconomic impacts are:

· alternative one, no project, a continuation of existing conditions, including the historic variation in agricultural employment levels.

· alternative two, the transfer of only 130,000 acre-feet using on-farm conservation and system improvements. A net addition of 430 jobs and an increase in business output of $32.9 million with on-farm conservation and/or system improvements.

This alternative would result in a loss of 290 jobs and a reduction of business output of $20 million, however, if fallowing were used exclusively for an inadvertent overrun condition.

This alternative would result in a loss of 750 jobs and a reduction in business output of $52 million if only fallowing were used to mitigate the Salton Sea.

· alternative three, a transfer of 230,000 acre-feet. There would be an addition of 660 jobs and an increase in business output of $51.2 million if on-farm conservation and system improvements were used.

If fallowing exclusively were used for this alternative, there would be a net loss of 1,090 jobs and a business output reduction of $75.8 million.

This alternative would result in a loss of 750 jobs and a reduction in business output of $52 million if only fallowing were used to mitigate the Salton Sea.

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