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Voice: Fallowing May Be The Answer to IID Obligations

Opinion By Tim Hawk
Imperial Valley Press, July 09, 2001

San Diego

It has been stated more than once in this paper the Imperial Irrigation District holds water rights in trust for the benefit of the landowners of Imperial Valley, with directors acting as trustees. This is my understanding.

The district is an irrigation district, which harks back to the district‚s inception and its original purpose and intent. Of course, IID has an obligation to provide water and power to every city and community in the Imperial Valley.

But while IID has obligations to all Valley residents and its directors are elected by all Valley citizens, their obligation to perform as trustees operating in the best interest of landowners, minority though they are, is a special responsibility. It is constant and does not change just because an election may bring forth new directors.

Directors must be held accountable to the voters for how well they perform this particular duty. If they do not perform it as originally intended, nothing else may matter for them, for, it could conceivably fall to the courts, not just the electorate, to decide whether they are fulfilling this basic fiduciary responsibility, and consequently, whether they should stay or go.

I am not so sure the general public, nor perhaps certain directors, are as aware of this aspect as they should be.

It is my understanding the Imperial Valley has senior water rights to 3.1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River and within this allocation, farmers/landowners have water rights to about 5 acre-feet of water per acre per year. Valley cities and communities also are guaranteed plentiful supplies of water from this large Colorado River allocation to the Imperial Valley.

Clearly there is more than sufficient water for all Valley residents and enterprises. That is why water transfer agreements with San Diego and the Metropolitan Water District are possible.

It is, therefore, inappropriate for certain Valley partisans to try to mandate to the farming community how best to operate their farming businesses or exercise their water rights. The Valley farm economy has not been very good. Many farmers struggle to pay their bills to their city brethren and others. What good does it do to try to require farmers to produce crops every season or every year whether or not there is an adequate market that compensates them in a way that allows them to pay their bills and make a reasonable profit?

If farmers/ landowners, at their option and sanctioned by IID, fallow some of their lands at various times and rent some of their water to other users at fair market value, it could just be the way to ensure their economic viability and debt-paying ability and provide more fresh water to thirsty coastal cities and, perhaps, to a salinity-ridden Salton Sea.

Farmers would still probably need to take care to apply sufficient water to any fallowed farmland to mitigate toxic salt buildup. This kind of arrangement should not reduce water supplies to Valley cities or other Valley interests since it would involve only the water to which landowners have the rights.

Acceptance of this option by IID would help it satisfy its special trust obligation to actively pursue the best interests of its trust beneficiaries, farmers and landowners, with virtually no adverse effects and significant benefits extending to others.