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Local Government: Water Transfer


Agreement may ease water transfer


Farm Bureau files protest to transfer

Conflict over a water transfer could be resolved under a conceptual agreement between Coachella Valley Water District and Imperial Irrigation District, a memorandum of understanding that gave the districts the first six months of 1999 to hammer out details..

The memorandum of understanding that included the Interior Department was signed in December 1998. It set the stage to resolve differences between the two desert water districts about Colorado River water rights.

The two districts had disagreed about whether Imperial could transfer conserved water to San Diego County Water Authority while bypassing Coachella Valley’s next-in-line water right. San Diego would pay Imperial for the water.

The water transfer must be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board, whose decision was still pending when Riverside County Farm Bureau filed a formal protest with the state water board in December 1998. Farm Bureau cited both the potential harm to Coachella Valley farmers and the precedent for future water rights questions.

Acknowledging the agreement between the districts, the state board said it would accept comments or protests for another six months, the first half of 1999.

Stephen J. Corona, president of Riverside County Farm Bureau, said Farm Bureau filed the protest to gain a voice in the water rights debate. Riverside’s letter of protest argued that the water transfer from Imperial to San Diego could "subvert the entitlement to water of the Coachella Valley Water District and therefore to ... farmers and ranchers," and, "further the action may establish a precedent that could result in subversion of entitlements to water of other water districts throughout California who supply water to farmers and ranchers."

At the recommendation of Imperial, San Diego and Riverside County Farm Bureaus, the California Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to the water board to "specifically reserve the right to provide comments, either collectively or individually, when the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are made available."

CFBF noted that "at this time it is difficult to determine how this proposed transfer will affect farmers and ranchers."

Corona said Riverside’s letter of protest also noted "that several contingencies must still be satisfied and that environmental review remains to be completed," and, "Riverside County Farm Bureau reserves the right to supplement its protest as further information about the proposed transfer project is developed" and "intends to present appropriate comment at each opportunity as this proposed transfer is subjected to further analysis and presented for review."

The full text of Farm Bureau's letter reads:

Riverside County Farm Bureau, Inc.
21160 Box Springs Road, Suite 102, Moreno Valley, California 92557, USA
Telephone 951/684-6732 - E-mail RCFarmB@aol.com - FAX 951/782-0621
Visit our Internet site at http://www.riversidecfb.com/
Affiliated with the California Farm Bureau Federation and the American Farm Bureau Federation

December 15, 1998
State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
c/o Richard Satkowski
P. O. Box 2000
Sacramento, California 95812-2000
Subject: Protest to the IID/SDCWA water transfer petition

Honorable Members of the State Water Resources Control Board:

Riverside County Farm Bureau, Inc., respectfully protests the Petition for Long-Term Change of Imperial Irrigation District's Permit 7643 (Application 7482), under Title 23 of the California Code of Regulations, Water Resources Control Board, Sections 745b and 745c, on grounds that the proposed transfer project: (1) would impair the water supply to Riverside County Farm Bureau members resulting from the transfer project's injury to the prior rights of the Coachella Valley Water District; and, (2) would be contrary to applicable laws and contracts. The resulting action may subvert the entitlement to water of the Coachella Valley Water District and therefore to the members of CVWD who include farmers and ranchers who are members of Riverside County Farm Bureau, and further the action may establish a precedent that could result in subversion of entitlements to water of other water districts throughout California who supply water to farmers and ranchers, including members of Riverside County Farm Bureau.

Riverside County Farm Bureau is a private, nonprofit association of farmers and ranchers throughout Riverside County, serving agriculture since 1917. Farm Bureau serves a key purpose by representing farmers and ranchers on issues that affect them. Riverside County Farm Bureau files this protest on behalf of its members who may be adversely impacted, directly or indirectly, now or in the future, by this proposed water transfer and the precedent it sets.

Riverside County Farm Bureau endorses and bases its protest on facts and legal arguments that have been raised by CVWD in its protest, including but not limited to those arguments that:

- Other areas of Southern California, as well as the San Diego area need supplemental water supplies and water supply reliability for present and future customers;

- The proposed transfer may subvert the priority system among federal contractors, and should be subjected to alternatives analysis and environmental documentation;

- IID’s Colorado River water entitlement is limited to water that has been put to actual reasonable and beneficial use within the IID service area;

- IID has no right to divert that water proposed to be transferred, because it is not now being put to reasonable and beneficial use (i.e., is being wasted);

- Agreements dating from 1931 (the Seven Party Agreement dated August 18, 1931,) and 1934 (the Compromise Agreement between IID and CVWD dated February 14, 1934,) gave IID a prior right to the third and sixth priority water over Coachella "exclusively for use in the Imperial service area"; and,

- The Seven Party Agreement requires water to become available for reasonable and beneficial use by the next priority holder (in this case CVWD) when it is not put to reasonable and beneficial use by the preceding priority holder (IID).

Riverside County Farm Bureau believes consummation of this proposed transfer may be used in the future as a precedent to justify other water transfers that subvert the orderly ranking of water priorities based on established water rights. In a situation where urban demand is increasing, those established water rights are absolutely essential for the protection of agricultural water users, and a precedent that subverts this process threatens harm to agriculture throughout California. Since it is not possible to measure the full potential for future harm from this precedent, Riverside County Farm Bureau is obligated to protest at the present time.

SWRCB may approve a petition for a long-term transfer if "the proposed change will not result in substantial injury to any legal user of the water ...." Riverside County Farm Bureau believes this proposed transfer will cause injury to agricultural water users within CVWD by infringing on their water entitlement and will also cause injury to other agricultural water users throughout California by establishing a precedent for long-term transfers that bypass junior entitlements to transfer water to users who have either lower priorities or no priorities for water entitlement thereby infringing on the junior entitlements. On this basis, Riverside County Farm Bureau believes SWRCB must not approve the petition from IID.

The Division of Water Rights' notice of petition confirms that several contingencies must still be satisfied and that environmental review remains to be completed. Riverside County Farm Bureau reserves the right to supplement its protest as further information about the proposed transfer project is developed. Riverside County Farm Bureau intends to present appropriate comment at each opportunity as this proposed transfer is subjected to further analysis and presented for review.

Riverside County Farm Bureau appreciates this opportunity to submit the foregoing comments regarding the proposed water transfer.

Sincerely,
Robert Eli Perkins
Executive Manager
Secretary

Copies served by fax to:

Petitioner
Imperial Irrigation District
c/o David Osias
501 West Broadway, Suite 900
San Diego, California 92101

Transferee
San Diego County Water Authority
c/o Scott Slater
21 East Carrillo Street
Santa Barbara, California 93101

cc:
California Farm Bureau Federation
Imperial County Farm Bureau
San Diego County Farm Bureau
Coachella Valley Water District
California Women for Agriculture
Progressive Farmers of Palo Verde Valley


Colorado River water flows north
up the east side of Coachella Valley's farms and fields,
in the canal that turned the desert green.


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