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IID discusses Feinstein letter, water transfer

May 29, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, insisting the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors fallow land to generate water for transfer and the Salton Sea was discussed at Monday's board meeting, as was the water transfer itself.

Brawley resident John Benson told the board Feinstein should have been shown more respect by IID Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn for comments quoted in Thursday's newspaper.

"When we insult her in public we do not help our cause," Benson, a Brawley city councilman and former IID director, said. "You're not going to change her mind by talking about the size of her rear end."

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Kuhn said he has apologized for the words he used in commenting on Feinstein's comments on fallowing and for her threat to take the water without compensation if the IID board decides to not fallow.

Kuhn said he apologized to Mark Kadesh, whom a Feinstein staff member in San Diego said is her chief of staff. Kuhn said he would not have been so critical of Feinstein if her letter had not be so threatening.

"You're not going to come after IID or our water without getting a comment from Bruce Kuhn," he said, adding that if the government attempts to take the water without compensation, he will fight it.

"I'll get at the forefront of that battle whether I'm on the board or not," he said.

Division 1 Director Andy Horne said the district is drafting a formal response to Feinstein's May 21 letter. He and board President Stella Mendoza said they want some of the wording changed.

Division 5 Director Rudy Maldonado said he would like all of the board to sign the letter when completed. He also said he is concerned with the apparent lack of Feinstein's knowledge about the transfer. He said her letter to the editor of this newspaper is "full of holes" and "leaves a lot of questions." The letter ran Friday.

Maldonado said Feinstein's letters suggest perhaps she is not being adequately informed by one of her senior staff members, Warren Weinstein, on the water transfer, and that Feinstein's staff should discuss the issue only with IID's two negotiators, Horne and Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen, and not IID staff.

Additionally, Maldonado said Feinstein should stop listening to representatives of the San Diego County Water Authority, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

In related matters to the transfer, the board was told the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is insisting the district rewrite the draft environmental impact report, at an estimated cost of $300,000; is seeking a return of 100,000 acre-feet of water from last year's order; and wants IID to reduce this year's order of 3.1 million acre-feet to something less than that. Reclamation did not return calls seeking confirmation.

The board was told the state Department of Fish & Game is preparing a letter indicating it will not issue a permit for the so-called habitat conservation plan approach No. 1 as found in the EIR. Under this approach, IID would construct a hatchery to ensure continued availability of tilapia as a forage base for piscivorous birds.

Hatchery operations would be located near the sea on land not under cultivation. A second component of the approach would be initiated if a long-term restoration project was not implemented before the sea could no longer support fish. Under this component, IID would create 5,000 acres of ponds near the sea to support fish and provide the forage base.

The remaining HCP — approach No. 2 — would provide make-up water for the sea through any means available, including fallowing, on-farm conservation or system savings. The draft EIR states if fallowing were used to generate water for transfer, it would require 50,000 acres of land. An additional 25,000 acres would be fallowed to generate water for the sea and 9,800 acres would be needed in case of inadvertent overrun.

In other related business, the board:

· approved spending an additional $100,000 for completion of the transfer draft EIR. The additional amount is needed because there were more comments on the EIR than expected, the need for rebuttal testimony at the ongoing state Water Resources Control Board hearings on the transfer petition and that the final EIR's executive summary and environmental justice sections be translated into Spanish.

Mendoza voted "no."

The district has spent about $6 million on the EIR process, including $780,135 for the final phase.

Maldonado asked staff to provide the board with an up-to-date amount the district has spent on the transfer.

· approved an additional $50,000 to retain the professional services of former IID employee John Eckhardt for negotiations of the transfer's habitat conservation plan and as an expert witness at the state board hearing. A previous $150,000 in additional funds was approved in January.

Mendoza and Horne voted "no."

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

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