Historic water deal approved

(Note: Interesting, how the Salton Sea -- a manmade lake -- will be 'restored.' This is another step toward control of all water, and all farming, and all people. "A group of farmers, known as the Imperial Group, has already filed a lawsuit, alleging the irrigation district doesn't have authority to supersede individual water rights." Yes, this is happening in California, but will eventually come to many/most other parts of the country. Where will food come from, once the farmers have been -- many of them with their economic 'backs to the wall' -- 'bought out' and they no longer get water with which to farm and raise food? Please consider this vital question!)

October 3, 2003

By Stuart Leavenworth, Bee Staff Writer

sleavenworth@sacbee.com  or 916-321-1185

Sacramento, California


To submit a Letter to the Editor: editor@sacbee.com

In a surprise vote Thursday evening, the board of the Imperial Irrigation District approved a monumental water deal for Southern California that sets the stage for the largest sale of farm water to cities in the nation's history.

Meeting in a packed room in El Centro, the Imperial board voted 3-2 to approve a pact that, in various forms, has been tensely negotiated for eight years.

The pact, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), allows California to keep receiving surplus water from the Colorado River for the next 13 years.

In exchange, California must gradually reduce its pumping from the Colorado -- mainly through a sale of Imperial water to San Diego that could net farmers $2 billion over 75 years.

Three other California agencies have already approved the QSA, meaning the Imperial vote makes the pact final and binding.

Imperial's board had rejected an earlier version December 9, 2002.

This time, however, board member Bruce Kuhn switched sides, voting for an agreement he had personally negotiated in recent months.

Kuhn said Thursday he became convinced that this new pact was much improved, partly because it obligates Imperial to sell water for only 45 years, with an option for another 30. "I don't think anyone will get rich off this thing," said Kuhn after the vote, "but on the other hand, I don't think the valley will suffer."

Imperial spokeswoman Sue Giller said the boardroom was packed as residents and bused-in farm workers spoke passionately against and for the pact.

The board had scheduled the vote for Tuesday, the day of the California recall election.

But with two of their colleagues refusing to reconsider their opposition, board members Lloyd Allen, Rudy Maldonado and Kuhn exercised their prerogative to vote during a scheduled workshop.

Some Imperial residents were outraged at the early vote Thursday and vowed to fight it, either in court or through a recall of the Imperial board.

A group of farmers known as the Imperial group already has filed a lawsuit, alleging the irrigation district doesn't have authority to supersede individual water rights.

Even some cautious supporters questioned whether the board sped up the vote because of pressure from Gov. Gray Davis, the target of Tuesday's recall election.

Kuhn dismissed that suggestion, but Michael Cox, president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, said he had heard otherwise.

"There are definitely some political considerations in all this," said Cox, whose board met Thursday but took no formal position.

Barring any legal challenges, the Colorado River settlement will fundamentally change the geopolitics of water in Southern California, and possibly relieve pressure on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the other major source of water for Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities.

Because of the water transfer, San Diego will no longer be wholly dependent on the mammoth Metropolitan Water District. San Diego hopes to gain 10,000 acre-feet of water this year, ramping up to 200,000 acre-feet -- enough for 400,000 households -- over 19 years.

The Coachella Valley also will receive a more dependable allocation from the Colorado River, and Metropolitan will have access to surplus Colorado River water, assuming an ongoing drought on the river eases in coming years.

For their part, Imperial officials were eager to end a costly legal battle that had pitted the IID against the Interior Department, Metropolitan and Coachella.

Those three entities had accused Imperial farmers of wasting water.

But Thursday's agreement wipes clean all litigation on the table and also generates funds to protect the Salton Sea, an inland lake fed by Imperial runoff that is slowly shrinking.

Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, said the approved pact was critical for all of California.

"In the end, every party gave up a little bit, and every party gained something," Stapleton said after the final vote.

Many details still must be worked out, such as how Imperial farmers will conserve water on their fields, and how the Salton Sea will be restored.