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Water Transfers
IID-Wildlife Negotiations To Begin

By Darren Simon
Imperial Valley Press, January 2, 2001

The Imperial Irrigation District will meet this month with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to start negotiations that could determine the fate of the water transfer to San Diego.

IID General Manager Jesse Silva said this morning talks are expected to start before Jan. 15 and could last a month to three months.

The focus of the negotiations is to determine what mitigations U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials would require to counter effects the transfer would have on the environment and wildlife.

Those negotiations would result in the drafting of what would be known as the habitat conservation plan, the document that will detail what mitigations are necessary to protect the environment.

At issue is how the water transfer, which calls for shipping 200,000 acre-feet per year to San Diego, would affect local waterways such as the Salton Sea.

IID has proposed a plan in which local farmers would save water for the transfer through on-farm conservation methods but doing so likely would mean less water flowing into the Salton Sea.

That is a concern because less water in the sea means the salt concentration would rise and life in the sea could be affected.

Silva said negotiations are a critical step toward the water transfer coming to fruition because the talks will determine not only what mitigations must be done but how much it would cost to protect the environment from the transfer.

IID officials have set a limit of $15 million they would be willing to spend to mitigate the effects of the transfer.

Any amount above that could cause the IID Board of Directors to take a closer look at whether the transfer can move forward.

IID board President Rudy Maldonado said the board has discussed the mitigation issue in closed session and there have been talks on how much it would cost for different forms of mitigation.

While Maldonado did not speak specifically about potential costs of mitigation, he did say, "There have been some profound numbers being discussed."

He added some mitigation could come with a cost above $15 million.

Director Andy Horne agreed, stating "there are some indications" the costs of mitigation could go above the $15 million threshold.

He said for the transfer to occur there is going to have to be a sharing of environmental costs between water agencies. He added the state and federal governments could play a role in such cost-sharing.

Without that, he said, "there is no deal."

Horne did say it is much too early to say how much it will cost to mitigate the effects of the transfer. He said negotiations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife have not started.

He added until such discussions are finished or reach an impasse, it would be difficult to discuss specific costs.

Maldonado said, "We are keeping our fingers crossed that as we talk to (U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials), they'll be flexible."

He added he is hopeful "when they hear our story or what we have to say, they will be able to see it in our perspective and in that way hold our costs down."

Maldonado said the water transfer to San Diego must happen.

He said the transfer is a key part of the California Colorado River Use Plan, in which the state would reduce its dependency on the river to 4.4 million acre-feet per year.

"This water transfer is so critical that failure is not an option," Maldonado said.

Director Stella Mendoza declined to speak about specific numbers. However, her stance on the water transfer differed from Maldonado. She said the transfer should not go forward.

"It is a bad deal for the Valley," she said.

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