State begins formal transfer process

April 23, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Write

HOLTVILLE — The state agency tasked with the ultimate approval of the water transfer began the process of formally considering the proposal.

The state Water Resources Control Board chairman and hearing officer, Arthur G. Baggett Jr., listened to policy statements by county, farming, business and environmental representatives on Monday at the Barbara Worth Golf Resort.

All spoke in favor of the transfer, in principle.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Hank Kuiper said the Imperial Valley is not responsible for the state's overuse of river water.


"But we are willing to collaborate with other units of federal, state and local government to help solve the problem, recognizing as one court of appeal justice wrote many years ago, that in matter of water, Californians must share the burdens together," he said.

Kuiper said the county's concerns include the viability of local agriculture, future needs of the local urban economy, the environmental health of the Salton Sea and the county as a whole and the still-unfulfilled need to define and enforce mitigation measures that meet all our needs, beyond those confined to the individual farmer.

"We must identify the recipients of compensation for so-called ‘third-party impacts' and ensure that the proper beneficiaries of the transfer — and these we view as a combination of San Diego consumers in particular and the people of the United States and California in general — provide this compensation," Kuiper said.

El Centro area farmer Heidi Kuhn said local farmers will conserve the water needed for Southern California, "but we cannot be expected to do so at the cost of economic or environmental devastation to our Valley, our community and our way of life."

Kuhn suggested the transfer be limited to match the 30 years of the San Diego/MWD wheeling arrangement and there be assurances San Diego not move forward with a new canal unless it is in the interest of all parties.

Niland area fish farmer George Ray said decisions made by the state Water Resources Control Board in 1984 and 1988 regarding reasonable and beneficial use of water set in motion a sequence of events that brought everyone to where we are today, and that three major events have since occurred.

He said the Imperial Irrigation District, under duress, negotiated in good faith the transfer of conserved water with MWD, the transfer of conserved water with San Diego and the quantification settlement. He said the IID Board of Directors relied too heavily on paid professionals in all three instances, without input from the farming community.

"This omission resulted in the flawed proposal before you today," he said. "For the most part, farmers were excluded from the negotiating process and decision-making process, yet it is farmers who stand to lose the use of this water, it is farmers who must bear most of the negotiating cost related to the water transfer and the cost of conserving water. It is farmers who are at risk to the demands of environmental interest and landowners around the Salton Sea."

El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau Chief Executive Officer Cathy Kennerson said the chamber supports the water transfer in principle.

"It is imperative that all third-party impacts identified in the (environmental impact report/environmental impact statement) be fully mitigated in the final agreement to transfer water," she said. "Our support is also conditioned on the restoration of the Salton Sea being fully funded and implemented by the state of California and the federal government."

She said the chamber is generally inclined to support the sea's restoration if, in the view of state and federal officials, such restoration is scientifically and financially feasible.

Michael Cohen, senior associate with the Oakland-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, said he recognizes the need for the water transfer and supports the general objective of reducing the state's reliance on the Colorado.

"However, reallocation efforts must be implemented in such a way as to minimize environmental and socioeconomic impacts," his written statement says. "As currently structured, the proposed water transfer would have significant, unreasonable impacts on environmental and human health."

Cohen proposed the project receive temporary, conditional approval pending the enforceable commitment to certain environmental requirements. They include that water transferred during the period of approval could only be generated by the voluntary, temporary fallowing of land; that there be a plan to invest an appropriate percentage of transfer revenues into a community development fund to mitigate for the socioeconomic impacts; that there be a plan to identify and address the growth-inducing impacts at the point of delivery; that there be a plan to reduce the concentration of selenium in drainage waters; and there be the development and implementation of a long-term habitat preservation and dust- abatement plan for the Salton Sea.

Cohen suggested the temporary plan be in place through the end of 2007.

The hearings move to Sacramento today with about 25 days of evidentiary testimony and cross-examination.

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

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