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Report: On-farm conservation better option

April 24, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Using on-farm conservation to generate water for transfer would create 650 jobs and $20 million in annual personal income during the first six years of such a program, according to a new review of the socioeconomic impacts of fallowing.

The same study, done by Upland-based Stratecon Inc. vice president Rodney Smith, an economist who also worked on the economic portions of the 1998 IID/San Diego County Water Authority transfer agreement, says 290 jobs and $6 million would be lost during that same time period if water were generated by fallowing land.

The report — submitted as sworn testimony to the state Water Resources Control Board transfer petition hearings in Sacramento — says the maximum number of new jobs would be 910 by 2020, with the number leveling out at 710 by 2038. Direct job losses due to fallowing would peak at 1,400, or about 2,110, counting new jobs that would not be created.


As the state enters the third days of the formal hearing process into whether to allow the transfer of water out of the Imperial Valley, testimony is revealing information not previously made public.

Smith concludes the use of fallowing to generate water for the transfer to San Diego, instead of on-farm conservation, would sacrifice a significant economic stimulus to the local economy in the form of the current no-fallowing proposed agreement with SDCWA; and impose a significant economic loss to the local community.

"From an economics perspective, the switch to land fallowing would constitute a loss in local income worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the contemplated term of the proposed IID-SDCWA transfer and the (quantification settlement agreement), and a long-term loss of between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs," Smith wrote.

Smith defines fallowing as a program that would conserve water by not growing crops. He says the direct economic impact of land fallowing would be the farming income lost due to not growing crops, the lost income that would have been earned from the sale of goods and services for the growing of crops on fallowed land and an "induced effect" due to the additional economic activity that would be sacrificed from the income losses from the direct and indirect effects of fallowing.

"Offsetting these economic losses, of course, would be the economic benefit from the contract payments IID would receive under the proposed transfer agreements," Smith wrote.

Smith estimates a non-fallowing program based on system improvements and the installation of tailwater recovery systems would increase annual personal income in the county by about $20 million to $25 million per year during the course of the 75-year QSA.

"Of this gain, about 75 percent of the increase in income would be for employee compensation and 25 percent would be for the income earned by proprietors of businesses in Imperial County," he says. "Since a program based on methods of conservation other than land fallowing requires investments in on-farm conservation and system improvements, a non-fallowing program generates an immediate economic stimulus to the local economy."

By contrast, Smith says fallowing would lead to a reduction in the annual personal income of Valley residents.

"That is, the economic losses from the reduced agricultural activity exceed the economic benefits of the contract payments contemplated under the proposed agreements with the SDCWA and Coachella/MWD," he states.

Smith estimates during the first six years of the transfer, annual personal income in the Imperial Valley would drop by $5 million annually. After that, the annual income losses would steadily grow until they reach $30 million as fallowing expands to fulfill the requirements of both water transfers.

Under the IID/San Diego agreement, farmers are prohibited from using fallowing to generate water, but under the QSA, no such restriction exists.

Another report, also submitted as sworn testimony, concludes, for the years 1988-1997, the on-farm irrigation efficiency in the IID service area averaged 83 percent, with an overall efficiency of about 74 percent.

"In other words, 83 percent of the delivered water to the headgates was used for crop evapotranspiration, leaching and other crop-production uses," the report states.

The March 2002 report, by Fort Collins, Colo.-based Natural Resources Consulting Engineers Inc. president and principal engineer Woldezion Mesghinna, concludes IID's average conveyance and distribution efficiency for the same time period was about 89 percent.

Mesghinna says the state of California assumes a statewide on-farm irrigation efficiency will be 73 percent by 2020 and could reach 80 percent through better irrigation management and improved facilities.

"The irrigation efficiency of IID has thus already surpassed the state's future efficiency estimate, 20 years ahead of time," Mesghinna wrote.

Mesghinna also reviewed past water-use studies, including those conducted by and for the Bureau of Reclamation for Colorado River users.

According to a 1990 Reclamation study of irrigation distribution system efficiencies, IID's was 89 percent, second only to the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District in Arizona, which was 90 percent. By contrast, the Reclamation study shows Coachella with distribution system efficiency of 87 percent.

The state Water Resources Control Board is in the first stages of hearing sworn testimony regarding the transfer of up to 200,000 acre-feet yearly to San Diego and as much as 100,000 acre-feet yearly to the Coachella Valley Water District or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The hearings are expected to continue throughout May.

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

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