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Draft: Best option is water transfer to San Diego

March 27, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The draft independent review of the water transfer's socio-economic impacts states the most attractive alternative, in terms of pure economics, would be to transfer 300,000 acre-feet yearly to San Diego.

The reason is that San Diego would pay a higher price.

The draft report also says the best way to conserve that water and bring money into the community is through fallowing.

"Even at the discounted start-up prices in the SDCWA agreement, the cash flow would cover the cost of buying 50,000 acres in only two years," the report states. "This would leave 73 years of a substantial revenue stream which could be used, for example, to lower or even zero water prices to IID water buyers, support economic development investments, support conservation and environmental enhancements. There would also be sufficient funds available to undertake significant job training — skills development for Imperial County residents."

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The draft review was presented to the IID's community advisory commission Tuesday.

The report, conducted by San Diego-based CIC Research Inc., says the negative impacts from fallowing could be minimized by using employment impacts as a criteria for selecting which acreage and which crops would be fallowed.

CIC Research president Gordon Kubota made the presentation.

It also states that transferring water to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — under the quantification settlement agreement — is not economically viable if conserved on-farm. It would be if conserved through fallowing.

"To do on-farm conservation you need tons of money," Kubota said.

The draft report also concludes the number of people who might lose jobs if land were fallowed to save water could be reduced well below the 1,400 cited in the draft EIR.

Kubota said with detailed information about which local farms and crops use the most water and crop values, it would be possible to reduce the jobs impacts to less than 500.

"There are a lot of ways to get the economic impacts smaller," he said, adding that a lost job does not come back even if ground is brought back into production in the future. "If it comes back it's going to come back in another sector."

Kubota said he did not have any problem with the way the EIR consultant, CH2M Hill, performed the environmental study.

"If you look at the big picture, for what they said they did, they did," Kubota said. "We didn't see any place where we would say, ‘We wouldn't use this data.'"

There were some things Kubota said he would have done differently, however. He said the EIR considers impacts on individual census tracts instead of looking at the community as a whole. Also, the EIR estimated impacts proportionally across all farms and crops instead of likely impacts to high water-use ground and low value crops, the most likely to be affected.

"The place of disagreement is in the depth of the analysis," Kubota said, adding he would not expect professional economists to make mistakes, which he said was not done.

Kubota also said there were problems with the EIR's chapter on environmental justice. He said each government agency interprets environmental justice differently, but he'd never seen an interpretation quite like the one in the transfer EIR because of the census tract view.

The effects on the Salton Sea were also discussed, but not in the report.

Kubota said the sea has "pretty significant economic value" in terms of recreation.

Finally, Kubota said the IID would make money — not just cover its costs — if either of two transfer alternatives are chosen. One alternative would be a transfer of 130,000 acre-feet only, to San Diego. The other would be a transfer of 130,000 to San Diego and 100,000 to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Meanwhile, the CAC was briefed on two plans to save water through fallowing — one temporary and one permanent— using land to be bought by the IID. The temporary fallowing plan is the Imperial County Farm Bureau's, and the permanent fallowing plan is El Centro businessman Larry Bratton's.

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

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