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Voice: Governor orders fallowing, now what do we do?

May 07, 2002

The headlines in the paper say that the governor is going to order fallowing in the Imperial Valley.

In a crisis the governor can put the domestic water needs ahead of agriculture. I don't think this has been done before, but it is in the water code. In 1992 near the end of the seven- year drought, Gov. Wilson could have done that, but he chose to create a state water bank instead. He let farmers idle ground voluntarily and paid them $125 an acre-foot for the water. It lasted about one year and then it started to rain. As I remember, the state got about 800,000 acre-feet into the bank and sold about half of it. There was no third-party impact money. Nobody thought about it.

One of the things that is making it more difficult for the Imperial Irrigation District is that the Colorado River is in terrible shape. We are in the third year of a bad drought. It looks like the river is going to yield only 40 percent of normal this year, and this means the MWD's aqueduct won't run full next year unless the San Diego transfer gets signed or it rains a lot. Because of this, I think that we need a fallback plan in case our San Diego transfer falls apart.

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The San Diego transfer has gotten to the critical stage because of time deadlines. The regulators are getting worried about the Salton Sea. It's looking very expensive if the IID becomes more efficient. It would shrink the sea, hastening its demise. They also worry that the Salton Sea is attracting a lot of attention from the environmentalists and they could block a transfer. The easiest way to protect the sea is to fallow, and the regulators are finding that out.

To me, if we get serious about fallowing, we should work out a smaller water transfer for a shorter period of time. I know the regulators and Coachella want 300,000 acre-feet of water but I think that the transfer should be based on what is good for the Valley. The current deal would fallow 75,000 acres for 75 years. I think 25,000 acres or 100,000 acre-feet a year for five years makes more sense.

The effects of fallowing are harder on a community than conservation. It would give the Valley a chance to work out the problems of fallowing on a smaller scale. It would get some water to the coast, and it would also provide some time to work on a solution for the sea. I think that a 100,000 acre-foot program could not be refused by the state and it would be a large step forward with low risk to the Valley.

DON COX

Brawley

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