The new interim agreement should include the following.
1. Voluntary and limited fallowing by farmers in return for receiving fair market rent, indexed for inflation, for their conserved water. In determining fair rent, consideration should be given to the fact the cost of desalinizing seawater is about $1,500 an acre-foot, and often higher, and Kern County farmers have received $1,000 an acre-foot. There should be adequate provision of water for leaching and added funding for tile or drainage lines needed to prevent toxic salt accumulation regarding any fallowed farmland. Weed control related to fallowed land should also be funded.
2. Funding for Salton Sea and other area mitigation studies and planning processes should be provided for while simultaneously providing federal and state statutes exempting farmers, the Imperial Irrigation District and county governments from any environmental impact liability in connection with the water lease transfer.
3. Agreements should be made to fund severance pay and a state-of-the-art job training or retraining center in El Centro for those citizens who can demonstrate significant adverse impact caused by the transfer, as well as funding for a nearby state of the art athletic/recreation center, including facilities with in-door air conditioning. Coupled with these provisions should be state and federal exemptions for farmers, IID and county governments from any third-party liability in connection with the transfer.
4. Stipulation that the transfer is no way jeopardizes the status of the senior water rights held by farmers and landowners as the primary water beneficiaries of the IID trust.
This interim agreement should provide time to create a feasible long-term agreement. The long-term solution to the water situation should probably involve water conservation through more on-farm water technologies and less reliance on fallowing, though fallowing does make sense in certain instances, such as in regard to sandy soils that use inordinate amounts of water to grow low-value crops.
It is time for state and federal officials and San Diego to come forward with the necessary funding and statutory exemptions needed to provide a practical interim water transfer agreement. Arrogance and bluster will carry no weight with Valley pioneers or with the courts. Short of these kinds of requirements being met soon, the greater the risk of intense, expensive and protracted legal combat regarding the water issue.