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County sends letter about transfer impact

April 24, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

With no discussion and little comment, the county Board of Supervisors responded to an environmental study on the hotly debated water transfer between the San Diego County Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District.

The 17-page response letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the district addresses fallowing, impacts to the Salton Sea, San Diego County's growth and social and economic impacts to the county.

The supervisors unanimously weighed in on the transfer deal at their meeting Tuesday to help both IID and SDCWA meet "their obligation to protect the economy and the environment of Imperial Valley."

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A letter from county Planning Department Director Jurg Heuberger urged the supervisors to take a strong position on the water transfer to protect long- term water rights and quality of life in the Imperial Valley.

The response letter, written by Heuberger, states the agencies must do a better job estimating the impacts of the water transfer.

The response states the environmental drafts do not sufficiently detail the effects of the water transfer. The county expects to double its population in 20 years but economic growth outside agriculture is not addressed at all.

The county's historically high rate of unemployment and fragile economy make it vulnerable to any cut in employment. The environmental draft's estimated loss of 1,400 jobs will have a negative "domino effect" on the county's economy, the response letter states.

The response states expensive water conservation methods or idling farmland for the sake of the transfer could have a devastating effect on the local economy.

The county points out that San Diego's water management plan and rapid growth leaves the door open for future water requests.

The letter states water conservation and recycling in San Diego County need to be studied. Desalination of sea water is never mentioned in the environmental drafts as a possible future source of water. The county believes desalination should be addressed in the final environmental documents.

Air quality in Imperial County could be affected by exposed soil on fallowed fields or if the water level of the Salton Sea drops, exposing shoreline. The exposed earth could be whipped up by the wind producing air-quality problems similar to those seen around Owens and Mono lakes.

The letter concludes "It is wrong to assume that more than 90 years of habitat formation in the Imperial Valley can or should be simply re-engineered because it will impede the water transfer."

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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