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Selfish answers on water transfer the wrong ones

February 16, 2002

It's time to decide what to do about the water transfer.

The draft environmental impact report shows us that conserving all the water by improving irrigation efficiency would maintain our ag output, create about 250 jobs and boost our economy by $29 million.

Trying to maintain the Salton Sea by fallowing to conserve the 300 KAF (thousand acre-feet/year) of transfer water and another 100 KAF of mitigation water for the sea will significantly reduce ag output, cause a net loss of 2,460 jobs and drain our economy of $166 million yearly.

The difference adds up to 2,710 jobs and $195 million. (Without fallowing to get 100 KAF of mitigation water for the sea — the difference is still 2,110 jobs and $153 million.)

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That makes fallowing look like a very poor choice!

The next question is what to do with the transfer revenues that remain after necessary administrative and environmental mitigation costs. For the first 10 years, before price redetermination is possible, the revenue stream is pretty predictable. Will it be adequate to improve our efficiency by 300 KAF or more? Many agree it will be — if used wisely. To accomplish this, incentive payments will need to be tied to performance.

Any part of the revenue that is paid out that doesn't produce increased efficiency will have the same effect as fallowing — whether paid to landowners, farmers or non-farm community interests. If incentives are paid to landowners to simply reduce their water use, the result will be the same as fallowing. And if money is diverted to community spending that doesn't increase water-use efficiency, the result will be the same — increased "fallowing" as more money is diverted away from conservation, the amount of fallowing will increase and the community benefit will quickly be turned into a negative.

If the price is redetermined after 10 years, we face considerable uncertainty and the possibility of a dramatic price reduction. That would make it even more important to the community to get the maximum amount of conservation possible from the spending.

I can't imagine how, even $60-$80 million given to community interests could make up for over 2,100 jobs and more than $150 million of local economic activity loss. Even if it did, would it be right to take jobs and businesses away from those currently doing them well, so a new group of workers and businesses could profit?

Too often when money is involved, people become selfish and lose interest in doing what is right. Let's not do that ourselves, and let's be sure the Imperial Irrigation District board doesn't either.

LARRY GILBERT

Imperial

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