However, what most of the Board of Directors agrees about is that the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer has to be renegotiated to get a better deal for the Imperial Valley.
The QSA is a set of agreements that sends a portion of the 3.1 million acre-feet of Imperial Irrigation District entitlement water to urban areas like Los Angeles and San Diego.
Join the discussion and add your comments to this story! Scroll down or click here and tell us what you think.
At Monday’s hearing one judge, as The Associated Press put it, strongly defended the landmark agreement. Yet it remains to be seen whether the group will cast aside arguments that the agreement is unconstitutional because the state wrote a blank check to save the Salton Sea.
“If we learned anything from the experience with the lower court, it’s that predicting a particular outcome is a risky business,” said IID General Manager Kevin Kelley. “While I was encouraged at the obvious level of understanding that the one justice showed with his questions, I’m going to withhold the judgment until the panel issues its decision.”
The district is continuing to work on its contingency plan, a plan B originally proposed if the QSA failed in court, Kelley said. Water attorney Charles T. DuMars is expected to make a presentation Dec. 20 for the board.
The decision to develop a contingency plan and get a third party to review the QSA as it stands was about preserving the board’s right and options, Kelley said. And regardless of the decision made in court, the issue about what form Salton Sea restoration takes and who pays for it remains.
After speaking with IID lawyers, it looks like the court ruling may come down on the side of the QSA, said board Vice President John Pierre Menvielle. He added that he’s most interested in is seeing how to make the QSA better for the Valley.
The real issue is the liability of the Salton Sea, he said. He wants to see the coastal plain, the group getting the benefit of the Valley’s water, take on more liability of the Salton Sea.
“I think everyone on the board agrees the coast is getting the benefit from the water, if there’s any more liability they should pay for it,” he said.
The issues have been dragging on over a long period of time, the agreement having been signed in 2003, he said. It’s time a decision be made and the board looks at how to continue.
Even if the QSA is ruled valid in courts, the issues may drag on for years.
One side could appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court and there’s still a second round of environmental lawsuits that will follow, said Director Jim Hanks. Still after that the question remains of whether the state will step up and meet its obligations to restore the sea.
“The question then becomes ‘where does that leave the IID on environmental issues and expenses as the major land owner around the Salton Sea?’” Hanks said in a statement.
At that point, the IID has to take steps to turn the water off and attempt to recoup its losses, he said. The district still has a budgetary imbalance between money it’s receiving for transferring the water and the cost of conservation. That budget gap will be further widened if the state can’t pay to meet its mitigation obligation. The district can’t afford being burdened with that cost.
The district and the Imperial Valley have to be made whole from water transfer expenses, added Director Matt Dessert.
“Imperial County, IID and water users, the farmers, can’t have that burden put on their shoulders,” he said. “That’s not part of the deal.”
The QSA is costing the ratepayers more now than it was when the agreement was signed, he said. “That’s a bad deal.”
The finances are upside down as far as Dessert is concerned, he said. The state also hasn’t stepped up to take on the restoration costs, and the clock is ticking.
“If the appeal goes down, does it change anything?” he asked. “We still have to renegotiate.”
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3441.