U.S. Water News Online
EL CENTRO, Calif. -- A tentative deal reached to transfer
water from Imperial County farms to sprawling urban San Diego will
pay farmers to leave some land fallow.
Local water agencies tentatively agreed to the transfer as part of
a critical state plan for ending overuse of Colorado River water. The
federal Department of the Interior has threatened to severely cut
California's river allotment if the plan is not in place by year's
Under the deal, at least one million acre-feet of water will be
sent to urban San Diego during the next 15 years. That will allow San
Diego to draw less Colorado River water from other suppliers.
It's only a fraction of the water used in the Imperial Valley. But
in a place where the desert begins at the edge of water-soaked
alfalfa fields, people fear it could be the beginning of more water
grabs by thirsty coastal cities.
The deal will require farmers to adopt more efficient irrigation
techniques while taking an average of 5 percent of their land out of
The Imperial Valley Irrigation District, which manages the
region's water, will be paid billions of dollars for the diverted
water and will pass the vast majority of the money on to farm owners.
The district has promised to commit $20 million to measures that
offset lost jobs. San Diego has promised additional help, if needed,
but has not offered a dollar amount.
Many people in the county of 140,000 residents are angered that
wealthy land owners will be compensated for their loss, while the
mostly Mexican immigrants who work the fields will be left in the
They are quick to point out that the majority of farms are owned
by absentee landlords and corporations.
Imperial Valley Water District board members said they are
concerned about the amount allocated for community relief and will
meet to discuss the deal. But they also said they are under pressure
from state and federal authorities to sign a final agreement.
Board member Rudy Maldonado said the district has been supportive
of other projects that will create jobs, such as lining irrigation
canals and the construction of an interstate highway to Mexico.
But Francisco Diaz, 37, who lives in the farm town of Brawley,
said money is needed to make those projects happen.
``The government and the water agencies are talking about helping
the farmworkers get other jobs, but that means money,'' said Diaz,
who worked in the fields for years and is now a student.
He called the $20 million a drop in the bucket in a county with an
unemployment rate of 22 percent -- more than three times the national
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