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IID hopes to educate Feinstein on rights

May 31, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

Emphasizing "restraint and forced diplomacy," the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors responded to a letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in which the senator discusses fallowing and the potential taking of water from the Imperial Valley without compensation.

IID's letter, dated Wednesday, states Feinstein's letter "reflects a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings.

"Many interested parties, including you, have concluded that there is only one way for the transfers to work from an environmental perspective, and that is for the IID to engage in a massive land fallowing program," IID's letter, signed by IID board President Stella Mendoza, states. "For a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state of California this only means one thing — additional loss of jobs and a significant negative impact on our local economy with widespread third-party impacts — all to (the) benefit of some of the wealthiest areas of California."

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The letter then goes on to say an estimated 2,000 local jobs could be lost if IID is required to fallow as much as 75,000 acres of farmland to supply water for transfer to the coast and for make-up water to the Salton Sea.

Feinstein's press secretary said the letter had arrived this morning, will be reviewed and a response will be issued.

Mendoza said the purpose of IID's letter was to "inform and educate the senator regarding the facts and conditions in the Valley and also to ask her to work with us and not against us."

The letter touches on a number of areas related to the water transfer and the fact that IID is expected to transfer as much as 500,000 acre-feet out of the Imperial Valley.

"It must be noted that neither the San Diego County Water Authority nor the Metropolitan Water District (of Southern California) have considered fallowing the substantial agricultural land in their service areas to generate additional water for urban uses," it says. "Yet, the federal government and these agencies are attempting to force IID into a fallowing program under the threat of federal enforcement. For me, as an elected official from this area, representing all of the residents of the Valley and not just landowners, I hope you can understand that this proposed change in direction presents exceedingly difficult challenges and personally causes me to deeply question what is best for my community in the long run."

IID Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn said he agreed with everything in the letter.

"I believe Sen. Feinstein has purely decided to make this a fallowing issue and it should not be," he said. "It's my personal belief she's doing this to facilitate the wants of the environmentalists and the environmental community. She's not selling us out for the water because the water would go to San Diego under a conservation-based program anyway. She's selling us out to placate the environmentalists and to keep the environmentalists off her back, in my opinion."

Division 5 Director Rudy Maldonado said the letter was well-written.

"It does point out some of the misconceptions," he said.

Division 1 Director Andy Horne said the letter "accurately reflects the position of the district.

"To the extent that it isn't entirely gracious, it is certainly indicative of some of the concerns we have with the senator's letter," he said.

Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen could not be reached for comment.

IID's letter also responds to Feinstein's intimation that should the IID decide not to fallow, resulting in a suspension of the Department of the Interior's Colorado River interim surplus guidelines, the federal government "could be forced to initiate proceedings to take the water IID had planned to transfer, and there would not be any compensation."

The IID letter states such a position by Feinstein and other federal officials "reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts, a failure to carry out appropriate due diligence and a misguided endorsement of the use of threats as a means of advancing policy goals or desires. These threats also ignore the legal reality that the Department of Interior is required to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and all of the other laws that the environmental community and others claim will block any water transfer using efficiency conservation. … We are sure that you agree that if the impacts of efficiency conservation by IID on the Salton Sea are so great that the transfer cannot be completed, then the Bureau of Reclamation will be similarly unable to take IID's water."

The letter then goes on to encourage Feinstein and her staff to meet directly with IID's water negotiators, Horne and Allen, to ensure a better line of communication.

"I look forward to an improved working relationship with you and your staff," the letter says. "Hopefully, we can move forward together in an attempt to determine how best to bring about the appropriate and timely implementation of the (quantification settlement agreement)."

In a related matter, 17 members of the House of Representatives, including 16 Republicans and one Democrat, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton urging her to undertake "a determined yet cooperative approach that seeks an innovative solution" to the transfer's effects on the Salton Sea to ensure the so-called California Water Use Plan is a success.

"To succeed, such an approach must not only address environmental impacts, but it also must recognize and address the concerns of the agricultural communities, which are fearful that their rural economy is at risk," it says. "The two need not be in conflict."

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

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