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Feinstein letter draws fire

May 23, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

Response to a threatening letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that the Imperial Irrigation District fallow land to generate water for transfer or the water will be taken away continues against her.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, said he thinks Feinstein's position is based on what he considers a serious error in facts and judgment. He said his position is that fallowing should not be forced on the Imperial Valley.

Hunter said the fallowing alternative totally avoids the issue that poses the most serious effect to the Salton Sea, increasing salinity, which will result in the sea's death when the salt content reaches 60,000 parts per million.

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The sea is around 44,000 ppm, which is about 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

Hunter also said if hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water were to go to the Salton Sea, the state would not benefit from that water for drinking and irrigation.

"That doesn't make sense," he said.

Further, Hunter said there is no clear environmental analysis conclusively proving that by merely keeping the sea full it will solve any of its environmental problems.

Finally, he said Feinstein's letter clearly places the hard-working people of Imperial County in a cross-fire.

"For years they have been threatened with legal actions if they didn't conserve water, and now they are being threatened with legal actions if they do conserve water," Hunter said, adding sound science should be the focus on solving the sea's problems.

In her letter Feinstein states if the IID decides to not fallow, there is a serious risk that the Department of the Interior will suspend the Colorado River interim surplus guidelines.

"If this were to happen then Interior could be forced to initiate the proceedings to take the water IID had planned to transfer, and there would not be any compensation," Feinstein's letter to IID board President Stella Mendoza states.

Under the surplus criteria, Interior agreed to declare 15 years of surplus conditions on the river to allow California to gradually reduce its draw of 5.2 million acre-feet yearly to its legal apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet during normal flow conditions. The transfer of water from the IID to the San Diego County Water Authority, the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is considered the linchpin to the state's overall water reduction plan. Should the plan not be in place by the end of the year, the other river basin states will likely ask Interior to cancel the surplus declarations and immediately cut deliveries to the state.

The over-draw is being used by MWD and its member agencies, including San Diego. Of the state's 4.4 million apportionment, MWD has a right to 550,000 acre-feet yearly but has been taking between 1.2 million and 1.3 million.

Meanwhile, IID Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn reacted angrily to Feinstein's letter.

"First things first: The federal government may make a grab for the water but they're not going to do it without getting the crap sued out of them," he said. "I would expect nothing less from Feinstein, being the bureaucratic gas bag, pig-eyed sack of crap that she is. They will not take the water without a long, protracted legal battle. She has got her head stuck in the sand, which is a better place to have it than where she's about to stick it."

Kuhn said he agrees with a comment made by Mendoza on Wednesday in response to Feinstein's letter.

If Feinstein "gets off her bureaucratic fat ass and gets legislation to come up with the backfill (money above the IID's $15 million cap for transfer-related environmental mitigation) everybody wins. It can still be a win-win through conservation," he said.

He said if the government takes the water it could be a blessing in disguise because with the water goes the responsibility to mitigate the effects on the environment, including the Salton Sea.

Numerous calls to Feinstein's offices did not result in reaching anyone who would discuss the letter or knew anything in-depth about the issue.

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

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