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Beneficial threat hangs over IID

June 05, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The Department of the Interior has weighed in on the issue of fallowing and reiterated the possibility that water could be taken from the Imperial Valley without compensation by claiming the water is not being used beneficially.

A May 31 letter from Bennett W. Raley, assistant secretary of the Interior for water and science, says, "Any wasteful water use practices within California would undoubtedly come under extraordinary scrutiny from all parties.

"And as you know, because no water user has the right to waste water, the enforcement of beneficial-use requirements would clearly not require compensation," Raley wrote.

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Imperial Irrigation District board President Stella Mendoza disagreed IID is wasting water.

"The IID is one of the most efficient irrigation districts in the state of California, and are more efficient than the state when it comes to reasonable and beneficial use of water," she said.

Raley's letter also discusses fallowing.

"Interior is fully supportive of … efforts to engage IID in a discussion of workable conservation-based alternatives, and in the absence of such alternatives, to focus on a workable fallowing approach, which should include provisions to provide an appropriate means to compensate those who bear its impacts," it says.

The only thing Mendoza would agree with in Raley's letter is the seriousness of the issue.

"The district is doing its part to facilitate the process. However, I am not willing to sacrifice the quality of life and the economic viability of the Imperial Valley to quench the never-ending thirst of both San Diego and Los Angeles," she said.

IID Division 1 Director Andy Horne said Raley's position is inconsistent with that expressed at an October 2001 meeting, "that if we came up with a plan and $60 million, that he could get the plan accepted and get the Fish & Wildlife Service to issue the take permits," Horne said.

The plan — for addressing impacts to the Salton Sea — was the so-called habitat conservation plan approach No. 1 in the water transfer draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement. The money was to come from federal legislation introduced by two members of the House of Representatives. The take permits would have allowed the incidental takings of endangered species as a result of a conservation-based water transfer.

"Now we're being told we're in jeopardy because of his inability to deliver," Horne said. "I find that rather ironic."

Raley this morning said no such assurances were given.

"Absolutely not," he said. "That is not something that is within my authority. I would never say such a thing."

Raley said the issuance of such taking permits are within the purview of Fish & Wildlife and it would be illegal and improper for him to make such a promise.

When asked if the federal government would only approve a transfer based on fallowing, Raley said he would defer to his letter, adding further positions would likely be forthcoming, but said he would not elaborate. He said he is hopeful the issues can be worked out and he understands the difficulty facing all parties.

Meanwhile, under HCP approach No. 1, 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 Salton 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 says if fallowing were used to generate water for transfer, it would require 50,000 acres. 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.

It was reported last week to the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors that the California Department of Fish and Game will not issue required permits under approach No. 1, and Horne said the expected letter will also be signed by Fish & Wildlife.

Horne said the new position by Raley is "somewhat duplicitous."

He said the $60 million could have been a down payment for a Salton Sea restoration plan.

Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen said he's read the letter but has not discussed it with anyone yet.

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