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Governor orders IID to fallow

April 28, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The governor has ordered the Imperial Irrigation District to fallow.

"We were told in no uncertain terms that we should seriously consider fallowing because they don't want to offend environmentalists," said IID Director Andy Horne of a meeting with the governor's staff on Monday. "We were basically told the same thing by our partners, the other water districts."

Horne and other IID representatives were in Sacramento for the start of the state Water Resources Control Board hearings on the petition to transfer up to 200,000 acre-feet of water annually to the San Diego County Water Authority and 100,000 to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Horne said the IID party received a "tongue-lashing" from Gov. Gray Davis' cabinet secretary, Susan Kennedy. She is Davis' direct liaison to cabinet members, agency secretaries and department directors. Others in attendance included Bennett Raley, assistant U.S. secretary of the Interior for water and science; Mary Nichols, state Resources Agency secretary; Tom Hannigan, state Department of Water Resources director; and Robert Johnson, Colorado River regional director.

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"It was intense and direct," Horne said.

With Horne was IID Director Lloyd Allen.

"That's exactly what happened," Allen said.

Allen said Nichols told fallowing should be done because the Salton Sea needs make-up water. Allen also said it was suggested the IID generate at least the first year's transfer amount, 20,000 acre-feet, through fallowing because the state doesn't want any lawsuits from environmentalists as would be expected if the transfer is undertaken without fallowing and the sea is damaged.

"None of the above occurred," said Bob Hight, state Fish & Game director, who was also at the meeting. "The meeting was to explore options and to explore all of the possibilities."

Hight said he was requested by the governor's press office to return calls this newspaper made to Kennedy. He said Davis wants to make sure the state's plan to reduce its draw from the Colorado River is successful.

"We explored all of the options to get there, including fallowing," Hight said.

Hight was asked if the administration is putting pressure on IID to fallow because the state faces a $27 billion deficit and there is no money to help mitigate the potential on-farm conservation effects on the Salton Sea.

"It's not so much the deficit as it is what best mitigates the transfer," he said.

Hight was also asked to explain the administration's position on the potential loss of 500 to 2,100 jobs resulting from fallowing on a county with high unemployment and low median and per capita income.

"We want to find ways to move the transfer forward and minimize the impacts to the county," he said, adding the studies that show such job losses assume all of the impacts will be in one year instead of over 10 to 15 years. "That's not to say the impacts aren't real or that we're not trying to figure out a way to solve this."

DWR Director Tom Hannigan said he saw the meeting differently than Horne and Allen.

"Yes, the meeting occurred," he said Thursday. "To my recollection, environmentalists were never mentioned."

Hannigan said the purpose of the meeting with IID was to get a better feel for the transfer's status and the Salton Sea because of IID's crucial role, to let the IID know Davis is going to support the so-called Kuehl bill on the state's fully protected species act and to discuss fallowing.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl's bill, Senate Bill 482, calls on Congress to not penalize IID or take any negative action if IID chooses to implement a program that depends on fallowing as part of a water conservation program, and that the national and state water policies that comprise the California Colorado River Water Use Plan may require an approach that recognizes that water dedicated to conservation and mitigation for endangered species is reasonably and beneficially used. The bill is expected to relax the state's stringent fully endangered species act, which prohibits the incidental taking of an endangered species.

Hannigan said the IID directors made clear they are very opposed to fallowing but he and the state Fish & Game Department do not think the transfer can be accomplished as agreed-to because of the environmental costs for mitigating the Salton Sea, which could exceed $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Horne said the same message awaited IID representatives at a meeting with the other Southern California water agencies later that day.

"I reiterated our concerns about economic impacts," Horne said. "They think there's plenty of money in this deal to solve our problems but we don't see it that way."

Tom Levy, Coachella general manager/chief engineer, said the meeting was conducted because of the need for the IID board to consider fallowing for "a whole bunch of reasons.

"One being the impact to the Salton Sea," Levy said, adding he did not feel comfortable publicly discussing a private conversation.

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