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IID, county clash over bill

June 27, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors and county Board of Supervisors are clashing over a state Senate bill that would require fallowing to generate water for transfer and the environment while relaxing the state's fully protected species act.

The IID board is adamantly opposed to the bill, SB 482, while the county Board of Supervisors has come out in favor of it.

The bill would allow the incidental taking of certain endangered species, resulting from the transfer of water from IID to the San Diego County Water Authority, as long as IID meets certain conditions: that it fallow land to generate water for transfer and for the mitigation of the environmental impacts of the transfer on the Salton Sea.

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The bill passed out of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, with amendments, Tuesday and is headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee next. It passed out of the Senate on May 17, 2001.

The incidental taking of any endangered species also is contingent on the agricultural quantification settlement agreement being in place by the end of the year, the bill says.

IID Division 1 Director Andy Horne called the legislation a "fallowing cram-down bill."

"The bill as currently written presumes fallowing is the preferred method of conservation, and we're not in favor of that," he said, adding the bill is "woefully inadequate" when it comes to mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of fallowing. "It promises to help us in the future after we fallow, and that's not acceptable."

Meanwhile, the county supports the legislation.

Bob Ham, county director of intergovernmental relations, said the county has always supported a conservation-based transfer and remained at an arm's distance, allowing the IID to take the lead. When state and federal officials began pressuring the IID in recent months to fallow, however, the county decided it wanted a seat at the table.

"Once they started talking fallowing, the bigger community is now involved," Ham said.

He said if fallowing is used it can affect everything from property tax revenues to a higher demand for county services resulting from lost jobs.

"That's all we did, was get ourselves into the bill," Ham said.

Language in the bill would create a joint authority to decide how transfer revenues would be spent, and the county would have two representatives on the authority, as would IID, the state and others.

Supervisors Chairman Hank Kuiper said the county's support of the bill is nothing more than to protect its rights regarding land-use issues and socioeconomic impacts.

"We think it's in our jurisdiction," he said. "We want our 2 cents worth."

In a related matter, Kuiper said the county's letter to IID requesting the district rewrite the transfer's draft EIR/EIS was in front of him for signing. The county's request was reportedly denied.

IID Chief Counsel John Penn Carter said the district's main concern with the legislation is with language that could be interpreted as foreclosing any efficiency-based conservation measures forever.

"I think it promotes fallowing," he said.

In addition, he said there is language, added in committee Tuesday, that states the transfer "will not result in a material increase in the projected salinity levels at the Salton Sea."

"That's troublesome," Carter said, adding there also is a lack of socioeconomic mitigation in the bill.

Despite the Senate bill language to force the IID to fallow, Carter said a conservation-based transfer is not dead. He said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, has been working closely with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to issue permits for the habitat conservation plan preferred by the IID.

He said if such permits are issued, the district would likely have to issue a supplement to the EIR and re-circulate it.

The preferred plan includes the building of an estimated $130 million, 5,000-acre fish pond and hatchery.

The transfer would move between 130,000 acre-feet yearly to the San Diego County Water Authority, while two 50,000 acre-foot transfers would go to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. It is a cornerstone of the state's plan to reduce its draw of water from the Colorado River from 5.2 million acre-feet yearly to its legal apportionment during normal flow years of 4.4 million.

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

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