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Voice: What's happening regarding transfer may call for fallowing

June 04, 2002

It seems like every day something new happens to the San Diego transfer program. Several months ago, San Diego said they thought that fallowing was the best way to generate water for transfer. Then the governor's office said it, and now Sen. Feinstein is saying it.

The Imperial Irrigation District, the Farm Bureau and the I.V. Press have said the transfer water should be generated by the IID becoming more efficient.

Why the difference? The big problem is the Salton Sea. The transfer environmental impact report makes it clear that if the IID becomes more efficient and reduces the flow of water to the sea that it will hasten the death of the sea. It also says that a fallowing program will not affect the sea if it is done properly. And then there is the Salton Sea Authority, which says that with fallowing and less than $25 million a year, the sea can be saved for a long time.


The thing that is going to intensify the battle is the fact that the Colorado River is in terrible shape. After two years of drought, 40 percent of the usable water in storage has been depleted, and this year the river is predicted to yield only 32 percent of normal.

In September the Bureau of Reclamation will determine the river operations for next year. We can be assured that the river will not be placed on surplus condition. More likely it will be normal flow, which means that California will end up with about 600,000 acre-feet less water than this year.

In my many years in politics, one of the things I have learned is that the regulators won't come down as hard on somebody who is trying to cooperate. I don't think that it would be smart for the IID to get all of its water and then turn its back on 17 million people who will end up 20 percent short. Life could become ugly.

If the San Diego deal falls apart because of the sea, and fallowing is the only way left to generate some water without triggering a bunch of lawsuits and environmental problems, I think it would be wise to do something, if we get fair compensation.

I think that idling enough land to transfer 100,000 acre-feet would go a long way in keeping the wolf out of our living room. I think this should be a three-year program with at least 25 percent of the money going to take care of third-party impacts. This would not damage the sea, we would get some water to the coast, we would get some money to the farmers to help pay off their transfer debt and we would learn something about mitigating fallowing impacts.



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