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Feinstein insists Valley must fallow

May 22, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

If the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors refuses to fallow land to generate water for transfer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says the federal government will simply take the water and not pay for it.

"It is very critical that IID make a decision and agree to a form of fallowing that best meets the needs of the district," Feinstein says in a letter written Tuesday. "If Imperial does not decide to fallow, there is a serious risk the Department of Interior will have no alternative but to suspend the (Colorado River) interim surplus guidelines. If this were to happen, then Interior could be forced to initiate proceedings to take the water IID had planned to transfer and there would not be any compensation."

The letter is addressed to IID board President Stella Mendoza.

"I strongly disagree with Sen. Feinstein's opinion that the only workable alternative is fallowing," Mendoza said. "The senator doesn't live in the Imperial Valley and she would not be affected by the negative economic impacts of fallowing, and unless she comes up with the appropriate funds to mitigate the negative impacts — and that amount has not been determined yet — she can take a hike."

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Feinstein could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.

Her letter also alludes to the possibility the county could receive federal funding for economic development in exchange for fallowing, but Feinstein writes she must be provided with the county's economic needs within two weeks or she will not be able to help in time for the next budget cycle, but "getting additional economic assistance (is) contingent on the district deciding to fallow."

IID Division 1 Director Andy Horne said it is possible Feinstein could have been misinformed by the Bureau of Reclamation regarding the IID's use of water.

"I don't believe that Sen. Feinstein fully appreciates the complexities of what she's asking us to do," Horne said, adding the economic impacts of fallowing cannot be adequately addressed through a bill in Congress and it seems unlikely Congress would somehow take care of the district at some time in the future. "I'm not real enthusiastic about the letter."

Horne also disagreed with Feinstein's threat to just take the water without paying for it.

"Just let'em try," he said. "I don't believe the government can take something from you without compensation, which is what she intimates in her letter."

Feinstein's letter also says IID representatives met with her six weeks ago and "a proposal for evapotranspiration fallowing was put forth to solve the impasse over the quantification settlement agreement."

IID's water negotiators, Horne and Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen, both deny attending such a meeting.

"I wasn't there," Allen said.

Horne said no one is authorized to propose fallowing, as the IID board is formally against it.

"That baffles me," Horne said.

The economic impacts of fallowing have been estimated in the millions of dollars and as many as 2,100 local jobs.

The transfer would include up to 200,000 acre-feet yearly to the San Diego County Water Authority and two 50,000 acre-foot transfers yearly to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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

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