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Farm Bureau releases conservation plan

March 19, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

A water conservation plan that includes temporary fallowing but avoids debt, allocation to the gate, long-term contracts and incentives to farm less was introduced by the Imperial County Farm Bureau on Monday.

The plan would begin by having the Imperial Irrigation District issue a request for proposals to generate given amounts of water. Farmers would submit bids based on how much water could be saved by putting up their land.

"Basically, what you would do is rent the land and farm it with no crop and no water," explained Imperial-area farmer Larry Gilbert, chairman of the Farm Bureau's water committee. "In this case the district would be the farmer."

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Once the land were under the control of the IID, the water would remain in the Colorado River for transfer to the San Diego County Water Authority. San Diego would pay IID for the water and IID would begin using the money to conserve water through system improvements and to provide incentives for on-farm conservation efforts.

Gilbert explained that under the current transfer plan, the community could take on $140 million to $240 million in debt to finance conservation measures. Should the transfer be ended early, the community would be burdened with that debt with no revenue stream to pay the debt.

The Farm Bureau plan would result in conserving an estimated 370,000 acre-feet yearly, but it would take 25 years to reach that level through system and on-farm savings. Of that amount, it is estimated that 100,000 would be from system savings, including 85,000 by reducing canal spills and 15,000 from East Highline Canal seepage.

On-farm conservation would be measured through reduced tailwater. Meters would be installed as needed. History of water usage dating by to the 1980s, as proposed under IID's plan, would not be used. Rather, more immediate history based on crops, soil and other conditions would dictate how much water should be used, and thus, how much could be saved. Infiltration on fields with the highest infiltration rates would be reduced. Special conservation measures would be developed to meet certain farming conditions.

Gilbert agreed that to use fallowing the IID/San Diego transfer agreement would have to be changed. The 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 plan is silent on how to mitigate the potential environmental effects on the Salton Sea and third-party impacts from fallowing.

Gilbert said, however, the expenditures of transfer revenues within the Valley would create a conservation industry that would partially offset the effects of fallowing. In addition, he said transfer revenues could be redirected to the community if so desired.

"That's a decision to be made by somebody else," he said.

The plan has been under development since November 2001. It is meant to avoid certain problems farmers have with the plan being promoted by IID. The IID plan is not really voluntary, the Farm Bureau argues, because if the district uses more water than it is allotted, all farmers — including those not participating in the transfer — would have to repay the overuse. It would encourage less farming by paying farmers to withhold water from their land. It requires binding, complex, long-term contracts recorded against the land. It would reward inefficient past use and rewards those who disregarded IID's water conservation policies.

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

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