U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- San Diego officials have offered
farmers in California's Imperial Valley an additional $165 million to
take some of their land out of production to allow irrigation water
to be shipped to the city.
The water would replace Colorado River water that California is
scheduled to lose under a multistate agreement.
The offer came as negotiators met in Sacramento with state
Resources Secretary Mary Nichols, racing to beat both the end of the
legislative session, and a year-end deadline for California's plan to
reduce its overuse of the Colorado River.
The San Diego County Water Authority agency called its offer ``a
monumental step forward.'' It would pay farmers not to farm, which
would let the irrigation water be used instead by San Diego.
The San Diego authority said its offer would meet Imperial Valley
farmers' requirements with a variety of guarantees, including that
farmers will not have to permanently idle their land to save
The proposal would restructure the first 15 years of a 75-year
water transfer agreement it signed with the Imperial Irrigation
District in April 1998.
The authority is offering to pay $130 million over that 15 years,
and an additional $35 million would go for incentives to farmers who
agree to fallow, or leave idle, their land. The proposal would idle
about 10 percent of the farmland, on a rotating basis, for 10 years.
A sticking point remains the Salton Sea, an artificial lake
southeast of Palm Springs that was created when irrigation water
breached a canal in 1905, and kept alive since with lost irrigation
water. Scientists fear its increasing salinity will eventually kill
the lake. It already is 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean,
but teems with wildlife and is a major stopping spot for migratory
Imperial Irrigation District spokeswoman Susan Giller said the San
Diego proposal appeared to limit the water authority's cost for
preserving the sea.
The district has said earlier it would be willing to consider a
fallowing plan spanning five years, buying that much time for
Southern California water managers to find ways to protect the Salton
Sea while channeling unused irrigation water to San Diego.
California has until Dec. 31 to offer a plan outlining how it will
cut its annual use of Colorado River water. The Interior Department
has threatened to cut off the extra water by year's end if the state
misses the deadline it accepted in an agreement with six other
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