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State water board short on voting members

March 27, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

In three weeks, the state agency with ultimate jurisdiction over the pending transfer of water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego will come to Holtville to hear public input on the issue.

Too bad the five-member state Water Resources Control Board board of directors only has two voting members today. A third removed himself from the issue because he is the brother of Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Jesse Silva, and there are two vacancies.

Board member Peter Silva acknowledged he will not participate in the decision on the transfer.

"I'm going to recuse myself," he said, adding the state board has informally discussed the vacancies with the governor's office, and the board cannot speculate on what the governor might do.

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As of today, Gov. Gray Davis has not nominated anybody to fill those spots.

Davis spokesman Alex Traverso said appointments to the state board are pending.

"They're definitely forthcoming," he said, adding the Senate has a year to confirm them. "It is not uncommon at all to be appointed one day and sit on the board the next."

John Penn Carter, IID chief counsel, said the lack of members on the state board is an issue of which the IID is aware.

"We are concerned that we still don't have a full complement on the state board," he said.

On a personal level, however, Carter said he is not worried that voting members could be appointed to the body the day before hearings are held because history has shown those appointed will be competent and able to handle the job.

The petition, filed jointly by IID and the San Diego County Water Authority before the state board, seeks the state board's approval of the water transfer.

"The state board has the authority to issue an order approving the things we ask for in our petition," Carter said.

The other government body with authority when it comes to Colorado River water is the Department of the Interior, whose Bureau of Reclamation is a co-lead agency in the transfer. Any disagreement between Interior and the state board would go back to previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

"So long as state law is consistent with federal law, state law controls," Carter said, adding the theory behind the Boulder Canyon Project Act was to give the Secretary of the Interior power to enter into contracts with the river's basin states as long as the secretary respected certain existing rights under state law, such as present perfected rights.

For California, the water of the Colorado had already been divided through the 1931 Seven Party Agreement.

A spokeswoman for the San Diego County Water Authority said the authority has "confidence the governor will appoint someone who's qualified" to the state board.

The state board will be in the Imperial Valley on April 22 for an informal hearing. Formal hearings will be in Sacramento on April 23-24 and 29-30. If needed, the hearings will be extended to May 1.

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

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