Conservation quandary focus of water forum

March 28, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

What happens if the Imperial Irrigation District rejects the transfer of water to San Diego was likely the most informative question asked at a water forum Wednesday night.

The short answer was that California would have its supply of Colorado River water reduced to its legal apportionment, 4.4 million acre-feet during normal years.

Robert Johnson, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional director, conceded the law of the river — specifically the Boulder Canyon Project Act — allows for California to obtain additional amounts from unused apportionment and surplus declarations. However, because the secretary of the interior — the river's water master — signed a notice of decision declaring under what circumstances California may now have access to such unused appropriations and surplus declarations, the other six basin states would sue to force the secretary to comply with his own decision.


Those circumstances include the transfer of water from IID to the San Diego County Water Authority and the completion of the conditions precedent of the quantification settlement agreement by the end of this year, according to Johnson.

Johnson was but one of a number of speakers who gathered to continue providing the Imperial Valley community with years of information about the water transfer.

New to the local discussion were environmental groups.

Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife state director, and Karen Douglas, Planning and Conservation League natural resources director, gave their views of environmental and environmental justice issues.

Delfino said the environmental community is not opposed to the water transfer in general, but is of the opinion that it can be carried out in a manner less likely to worsen the impacts to the Salton Sea. She said the water agencies are not being asked to pay for the sea's restoration, but by minimizing additional damage to the sea the restoration effort becomes less expensive yet more likely the needed money can be obtained.

Douglas spoke about airborne dust and environmental justice.

She said the transfer as planned would likely expose 78 square miles of sea bottom and worsen the dust problem in both the Imperial and Coachella valleys, where she said both are already classified as nonattainment in PM10 dust standards. She showed a graph depicting how many days local areas were out of compliance with state and federal air standards.

"The primary cause of PM10 in this area is wind-blown dust," she said. "You breathe them in to your lungs and you don't cough them out."

She compared the potential effects to those occurring in the Owens Valley, where she said 60 miles of shoreline were exposed when the lake was dried up. She said the Owens Valley has the worst PM10 problem in the country.

"It's a potential," she said. "We're not saying it's going to happen for sure. We don't know, but the EIR does not address the issue."

Another issue poorly addressed in the EIR, according to Douglas, is environmental justice, which she called a joke.

She said San Diego will benefit from the water transfer while the Imperial Valley will pay for it through environmental and economic impacts, depending on how the water is conserved.

The forum was sponsored by the IID's community advisory commission.

Dilda McFadden, CAC subcommittee chairman, said the event went well.

"I thought it was excellent," he said after. "I think it was helpful to the process."

Other speakers were from the San Diego County Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Coachella Valley Water District, local businesses, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, agriculture, the West Shores Chamber of Commerce and IID.

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

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