Quantification Settlement Agreement funds have been offsetting costs of the water department.
All of these and more were findings presented by lawyer Charles T. DuMars as he made recommendations on where the district’s highly litigated and politicized water transfer should go from here.
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DuMars and other lawyers from Law and Resource Planning Associates, P.C., a law firm out of New Mexico, gave their second presentation to the IID Board of Directors and about 100 interested residents Tuesday, answering questions posed in December on what are the potential consequences of a set of agreements to sell water to San Diego.
A series of facts on the legal, environmental, conservation and financial aspects of the water transfer were presented in the first 1 1/2 hours of discussion, followed by about an hour of public and board member comments. The work the group of lawyers has done since last year is not to place blame on anyone, but rather to see what can be done from here, DuMars said.
Of the many recommendations the lawyers presented Tuesday, one of the big issues included laying the groundwork to challenge the State Water Resources Control Board Decision 1600, which decided IID wasted water in the 1980s, as it was a politically driven decision and facts on the ground have changed since then, DuMars said. The board also should acknowledge that the district’s Definite Plan, a conservation plan to make water to transfer to urban areas, is a theoretical document that may not reflect what is feasible to conserve.
Coordinating with Imperial County and the farmers is also key to moving forward, as well as starting mitigation earlier rather than later, he reported. Actions need to be taken to look at the possibility of there being a shortfall in the amount of money available from the transfer if the state backs out of its obligation to pay for Salton Sea mitigation, and internal IID staff can also be doing the work that the district has consultants for.
“Past boards have agreed to the terms of the QSA, but if these terms are impossible to fulfill, if their implementation would destroy the environment of the Valley, or if they are based upon mistaken legal views as to the obligation of the IID, the board should work with the JPA partners to adopt a revised QSA that will work, not proceed with one that is destined to fail,” read the last of the recommendations.
Though the report focused on what needed to change, many in the audience said they were happy with the direction of the report.
The presentation was a great external audit of the water transfer, said Imperial County Farm Bureau President Mark McBroom. It’s good to have “a third party with no skin in the game” looking at the situation and giving recommendations.
Early in the presentation DuMars pointed out that the law firm has no clients in San Diego or Metropolitan Water District’s area, nor any on the lower Colorado River.
The evaluation was a concise path on where the district needs to go, and McBroom said he just hopes and prays the board considers the recommendations presented. It doesn’t make sense for the district and Imperial County to be suing each other because it just keeps raising the cost of living here.
It was also nice to see that DuMars recognizes the best experts to go to for plans on farming conservation are the IID customers and members of the Water Conservation Advisory Board, McBroom said. If the district board follows the recommendations, McBroom said a lot of water issues would be solved.
The presentation was eye-opening for a lot of the people in the audience, said Steve Benson, who’s running for election to the IID board against incumbent Stella Mendoza and challenger Jerry Santillan. Through the last eight years Benson said he has seen the IID board and staff support the district’s Definite Plan, which DuMars said should be a theoretical document.
There are real problems with the plan, like farmers don’t have to sign up for on-farm conservation, he said. The IID isn’t making efforts to change, though, instead relying on lawsuits.
Benson wants to stop the flow of water from the Imperial Valley, he said.
“Our future is going out the door with every drop of water,” he said.
The IID is stuck with the responsibility of the water transfer because it’s a legal contract, said Director Mendoza. She voted against the QSA partially because she felt the board didn’t have time to see what the consequences would have been.