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Water agencies react to IID letter

May 17, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

Response to the Imperial Irrigation District's notice that it will not exceed its water transfer environmental mitigation cap is that it was not unexpected.

Tom Levy, Coachella Valley Water District general manager/chief engineer, said he has not seen the letter but has known for about a year that the environmental costs would exceed the IID's $15 million environmental cost cap.

He said that knowledge is one reason the water agencies have been seeking state and federal funding for mitigation costs.

The IID Board of Directors has put Southern California water agencies, the state and federal governments on notice it will not exceed its environmental cap. The water transfer agreement allows for the San Diego County Water Authority to cover those costs should its board choose to do so.

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Without money to pay for environmental expenses that exceed the $15 million IID cap, the 300,000 acre-foot transfer would die. Of that amount, between 130,000 and 200,000 is slated for San Diego, while two 50,000 acre-foot transfers would go to Coachella and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

IID board President Stella Mendoza said the letter, addressed to all three water agencies, was sent out this morning.

The letter states: "Although the environmental decision date … has not yet been reached, the IID has determined that the cost of all environmental mitigation measures for which the IID will be responsible if the activities described in the (transfer) agreement are implemented will likely exceed the IID environmental cost ceiling."

Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, also said she has not seen the letter, but it has been known for many months that the IID's environmental cap would be exceeded, and the four water agencies are seeking sources of funds for environmental mitigation.

She said the environmental costs are one of the obstacles to the transfer's success, and that the agencies are continuing to work with state Fish & Game and U.S. Fish & Wildlife to develop the best potential environmental mitigation plan.

"We just don't know what the cost is going to be," she said, adding the agencies are expending considerable staff time to develop a plan.

Stapleton said the IID's position related to the cost cap has been consistent and the letter reiterates what is already known, and the result will be a doubling of the effort to make the water transfer work.

Dennis Underwood, MWD vice president for Colorado River resources, said it would be difficult to comment on the IID board action without seeing the letter.

"We all know this is not an easy task," he said, adding he is not surprised IID would issue such a letter.

Meanwhile, Levy said one issue remaining to be resolved is how IID will generate the water for transfer. He said if IID were to fallow farmland, environmental costs would be reduced dramatically.

The IID board has formally adopted a resolution against fallowing, and the transfer agreement states the "IID covenants and agrees that fallowing will not be a permitted water-conservation effort under its contracts with its contracting landowners." The agreement also requires that a minimum of 130,000 acre-feet of water to be transferred be from on-farm conservation. Farmers will be asked to formally commit to participate in the transfer within 120 days after the certification of the transfer's final environmental impact report/environmental impact statement, expected in late June.

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

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