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IID puts water agencies on notice

May 15, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted 4-1 to send a letter informing the western water world it will not exceed its monetary limit for environmental mitigation associated with the water transfer.

"If they don't come up with the funding, then the transfer is over," said IID Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn. "The onus is on them."

Kuhn introduced the motion to send the letter to the San Diego County Water Authority informing it that IID will exercise its option to not spend more than $15 million for environmental impacts caused by the transfer of 300,000 acre-feet out of the Imperial Valley.


Voting with Kuhn were directors Andy Horne, Stella Mendoza and Rudy Maldonado, who seconded the motion. Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen voted "no."

Allen said there are indications the environmental cap will be exceeded but a response process exists for dealing with it.

"We haven't reached that point yet," he said after the meeting, adding San Diego was already put on notice with a previous letter.

San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton could not be reached for comment this morning.

IID Chief Counsel John Penn Carter said the actual cost of mitigation will not be known until IID, along with state Fish & Game and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, settle on a mitigation plan. He said mitigation is required for the sea, the district's service area and air- quality impacts. He said discussions on the issue continue. He added, however, that it is appropriate for the IID board to send the message to San Diego and he will draw up the letter as directed.

Carter said IID spent about $6 million for the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement related to the transfer, as well as an unknown amount on legal fees. He said in his opinion those costs are part of the district's cost cap. San Diego covers about 35 percent of those costs.

The right of IID — and San Diego — to reject exceeding the environmental cap is only one of several so-called off-ramps in the transfer agreement. The agreement does, however, require IID provide San Diego with the opportunity to pay for any amount of environmental mitigation in excess of IID's cap. It's also acceptable for one of the other water agencies, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California or Coachella Valley Water District, to come up with the money, as well as state and federal governments. San Diego's environmental cost ceiling is $1 million.

The IID/San Diego transfer is considered the linchpin to the state's dependence on Colorado River water. The coastal areas are using about 800,000 acre-feet more than the state's legal apportionment of 4.4 million during normal flow years on the river.

Meanwhile, Kuhn said it is well known the transfer's mitigation costs will exceed the cap by a significant amount and that there are some estimates that exceed $1 billion.

"I have no objections where that money comes from as long as it doesn't come from the pockets of the hard-working people of the Imperial Valley," Kuhn said.

After the vote, Kuhn said the board's action does not kill the transfer bur opens the door for others to step up with their checkbooks.

"We still stand here ready to spend $15 million," he said. "It simply puts them on notice."

Kuhn said the action is not in response to the Gov. Gray Davis's order that IID use fallowing to generate water to transfer and save the Salton Sea because of fears of lawsuits from environmental organizations.

The governor's order was addressed at the end of the board meeting, during board comments. Allen and Horne are the district's negotiators, and were present at the meeting with Davis's cabinet secretary, who relayed Davis's message.

Maldonado said after Davis's Cabinet Secretary Susan Kennedy discussed fallowing, that IID's water partners, San Diego, Coachella and MWD, went into a feeding frenzy on the same issue that showed their true colors after years of building trust.

"Now I'm having second thoughts about the transfer," he said.

Kuhn said the transfer was begun in the spirit of cooperation to help get water to the coast, with the specific agreement that fallowing would not be used, but it has now at the point where the district is being pressured to fallow despite spending millions of dollars locally to develop a plan based on conservation.

"They've turned on us like a pack of God-damned dogs," he said. "If this transfer dies, it will not be at the hands of the IID. It'll be at the hands of those who fail to come up with the money to backfill."

Horne said there was no "order" that IID fallow. Rather, he said, it was "strongly suggested." He said he and Allen were told if IID were to fallow the state would be willing to do something for IID.

"We told them we couldn't do that," he said.

He also said Davis wants the transfer to move forward, but doesn't care how the water is generated.

Mendoza said she has always been opposed to the water transfer, and never thought a majority of the board would reach this point.

"I will not support anything that will negatively impact the Imperial Valley," she said.

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

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