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County a major player in water transfer deal

April 04, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Representatives from agriculture, the county and business gave their views of the Imperial Irrigation District/San Diego County Water Authority water transfer draft environmental study Wednesday.

Antonio Rossman, special counsel for Imperial County, said the county's main concerns are the potential effects on air quality from the transfer and the impacts on socioeconomics.

Rossman said the county "very much so" has a role in the formal approval of the water transfer. He said the county should have a "formal authoritative voice in what happens" and that lately he's hearing something similar from the Imperial Irrigation District.

"They need to share that political risk," he said, adding cooperation between IID and the county is increasing.

Rossman said the county has a special role to play in its relation to agriculture and the Salton Sea.

"We're also the county of origin and that gives the county, under state law, certain legal prerogatives," he said.


Rossman, who has been working with the county on the transfer issue for five years, said the county has several concerns. It is frustrated with the lack of a thorough definition of fallowing and the extent to which it might be used to conserve water. Also, the notion of a willing seller/willing buyer is reminiscent of the willing sellers in the Owens Valley.

"In the end, Los Angeles was forced to buy the whole valley," he said.

He said the local air quality could result in another Owens Valley, where all of the water was bought by Los Angeles, and the locals were left with a wind-driven dry lake bed.

On the issue of third-party impacts, Rossman said contrary to what the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement says, there will be definite growth-inducing impacts in the San Diego area.

"From a lawyer's perspective, that is the easiest flaw in the EIR," he said, adding the whole purpose of the transfer is to allow for a 1 million increase in San Diego's population during the next 20 years. "We have to recognize at the outset that this is a growth-inducing impact."

In a related issue, Rossman said the value of the growth in San Diego is not reflected in the price of the water being bought from the Imperial Valley.

Rossman said formal written comments from the county will be submitted by the comment deadline, April 26.

District 4 Supervisor Gary Wyatt said he has great concerns with the impacts on the Salton Sea. He said a great effort must be made to save the sea.

Niland area fish farmer George Ray said he is resigned to the fact that local agriculture is going to lose more water under the transfer. He pointed out that the Imperial Valley already transfers 100,000 acre-feet yearly to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and IID is now considering transfers of another 300,000 acre-feet.

Ray also said the draft EIR/EIS is flawed in that it promotes exotic species over native species.

"Why are government officials promoting these exotic species?" he said, adding the EIR also is flawed in its habitat conservation plan in regard to tilapia and the kind of water in which they can live and breed.

El Centro landowner Bill DuBois said it took his family two and a half generations to pay off its land, "so it's somewhat important to me to not have our water rights fritter away."

He said the EIR fails to address the legal ramification on the Valley's water rights.

DuBois said he is concerned IID is borrowing money for transfer-related issues and has no money to under take its own system conservation. He said farmers will have to go into debt to conserve water.

Imperial-area farmer Larry Gilbert said the EIR does not accurately reflect the true amount of the revenue stream from the transfer. He said it is grossly understated in the EIR.

Gilbert also said under IID's plan, 85 percent of the transfer revenues will go to farmers, and of that, 40 percent will go to absentee landowners.

Wes Blakely, speaking for the El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, said all third-party impacts must be mitigated, and the state and federal governments must pay to save the Salton Sea. He said the Salton Sea must be kept separate from the transfer.

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

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