IID board certifies water transfer documents

June 30, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

With few comments, other than to say Friday's actions did not mean a water transfer is being formally approved, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted to certify final environmental documents associated with the transfer and the agricultural quantification settlement.

The vote to certify both documents was 4-1, with board President Stella Mendoza voting "no" both times.

It is unknown when the board might take formal action on whether to actually undertake the transfer project or cancel the project under any number of so-called off-ramps available to it in the transfer agreement.

At Friday's meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Hank Kuiper submitted a letter addressing each environmental impact report/environmental impact statement. The county also submitted a box of comments on each EIR. Each box had the capacity of 5,000 sheets of paper, and each was full.


Kuiper asked the IID board to not certify either EIR.

"Based on what has now been placed in the public record, no question can remain that the present (water transfer) EIR/EIS significantly fails to assess impacts of the currently-proposed transfer on growth in San Diego, air quality in Imperial County and potential land fallowing," one letter says. "The growth-inducing impacts are of great concern to us because failure to assess them means failure to assess and compare alternative means in San Diego of attaining that community's perceived future needs — alternatives that might require less export of water from Imperial Valley, thus serving the needs of both IID and the county of a thriving agricultural economy and stabilized Salton Sea. The air quality impact also greatly concerns us as we cannot support a proposal that would induce unhealthy air quality degradation arising from either an exposed Salton Sea shoreline or a programmatic fallowing of agricultural land. Perhaps more critical is the lack of analysis, definition and/or an acceptable plan for any type of long-term fallowing of agricultural land."

The IID board did not delay certification as requested by Kuiper.

Regarding the impacts of the transfer of water from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority, the IID board was told by the consultant who performed the EIR/EIS that significant unavoidable impacts include water quality, agricultural resources and air quality.

Laura Harnish, EIR/EIS project manager for CH2M Hill, said the water quality impacts come down to an increase in selenium concentrations in drains into the Alamo and New river and into the Salton Sea.

Air quality impacts are related to the potential for wind blown dust from an exposed Salton Sea shoreline. Under a Salton Sea habitat conservation strategy that uses fallowing to mitigate impacts, the dust is not expected to result until 2035 on 16,000 acres of land. The strategy would provide water to the sea until 2030 which is considered the date when salinity would rise to 60 parts per thousand, a point at which tilapia are thought to not be able to reproduce.

Regarding agricultural resources, Harnish said significant unavoidable impacts result if nonrotational fallowing is implemented to generate water for transfer or for Salton Sea mitigation.

San Diego County Water Authority liaison to the Imperial Valley, Rick Strobel, read a letter describing the San Diego County Water Authority as an IID partner committed to the original transfer agreement, and that the SDCWA supports state Senate Bill 482, a bill the IID board says will force the Imperial Valley to fallow land.

After the votes, Division 1 Director Andy Horne said the certification of the environmental documents does not mean a transfer project was approved.

Division 3 Director Lloyd Allen agreed.

Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn, referring to comments that the documents be changed, said neither of the documents are perfect.

"We cannot meet the requests of every person out there," he said.

In a related matter, IID Chief Counsel John Penn Carter informed the board that the San Diego County Water Authority has requested the IID grant a fourth extension to the transfer agreement requirement that San Diego obtain a method for transporting the transferred water for the initial term of the agreement, 45 years. To date San Diego has a 30-year agreement with MWD. The only way to get Colorado River water to San Diego is through MWD's Colorado River Aqueduct. The current extension runs out today. The transfer agreement is for 75 years.

A vote to certify the environmental documents means the document complies with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

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

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