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Report: Negligible impact from MWD plan

May 08, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

BLYTHE — The impacts of the transfer of water from the Palo Verde Irrigation District to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is likely to be "almost negligible," according to the draft environmental impact report.

In addition, the program's payments will provide upfront money to the participating farmers and an annual revenue stream that will help the farmers and the community.

"It's a pretty innovative program," said Dennis Underwood, MWD vice president of Colorado River resources.

The 35-year transfer agreement would make between 25,000 and 110,000 acre-feet of water available to MWD, by taking a likely maximum of 29 percent of Palo Verde's 91,000 acres of farmland in the program area out of production. Of that total acreage, 8,000 are in Imperial County. Farmers would be paid $3,170 per acre to join the program, and $550 per acre of land annually that is in the program.

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As part of the program, MWD would provide a fund for specific community improvement projects, the DEIR states.

Underwood said MWD acknowledges it has a responsibility to mitigate economic impacts from the program.

"We're trying to do this the right way," he said, adding that the deal must benefit the urban areas receiving the water as well as the farming community.

"We are interested in making sure there are not adverse impacts to the community," Underwood added.

The proposed funding mechanism is inadequate, however, according to a letter by the Blythe Area Chamber of Commerce in response to notification of the transfer's initial study. In the November 2001 letter to PVID, it says the transfer program seems to a great extent to be beneficial to the individual farmers, PVID and MWD.

"When you look at the numbers, the community seems to come out on the short end in every way," the letter says. "Local businesses should not be held responsible for an agreement they were not involved in from the beginning."

The chamber letter also says a reported $6 million community fund "seems a paltry amount" in light of a study that "showed a decrease of $4 million per year in farm input purchases and a net reduction in overall revenue of $8.6 million … per year" during a 1992-94 MWD/PVID transfer.

No one from the chamber would comment on the record about the draft EIR.

Mark Fulton, chairman of the Palo Verde Valley Economic Development Corp. water committee, said concerns include air quality and the height of the river in regard to impacts on recreation, especially in light of the cumulative impact of the MWD/PVID transfer when added to the Imperial Irrigation District/San Diego County Water Authority transfer.

There also are concerns about the socioeconomic impacts, despite there being no requirement under the California Environmental Quality Act that such an issue be evaluated in the DEIR.

Fulton said a preliminary report on the socioeconomic impacts are that the area would lose $240 million over the life of the deal. He said a study of the 1992-94 MWD/PVID transfer showed a 1.3 percent loss of jobs, while a separate study showed a 3 percent loss. He also said the draft EIR does not reflect the number of jobs that would be lost in Imperial and Yuma counties that depend on agriculture.

Further, Fulton said there are unknown effects on rail service, which only recently resumed service in the area. He said 85 percent of the railroad traffic is made up of transporting fertilizers to local farmers, and the transfer could lead to a 29 percent loss of that traffic.

Roger Henning, PVID chief engineer, said the effects of transfer on the environment would be "almost negligible."He said until farmers approve of the contract language it is unknown whether the transfer program will move forward. He also said a separate socioeconomic study is under way.

Tom Levy, general manager/chief engineer of the Coachella Valley Water District, said as long as the agricultural quantification settlement agreement becomes effective, the issue of Palo Verde bypassing lower water rights holders to send water to MWD is not an issue. He said if the QSA fails, he would expect MWD to approach Coachella and discuss the issue.

Palo Verde has the highest priority on the river, followed by the so-called Yuma Division, the Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella. The MWD has the fourth priority.

Meanwhile, the EIR says the potential for the transfer to impact workers was examined.

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