Environmental attorney Charles T. DuMars outlined what would be needed from a restructured Quantification Settlement Agreement to a crowd of more than 100 people at Tuesday’s Imperial Irrigation District meeting. However, his discussion left questions answered for some in the audience.
DuMars was hired earlier this year to come up with a “Plan B” for the QSA, a set of agreements that transfer a portion of IID-entitlement water to urban coastal areas. DuMars and his team gave a preliminary report Tuesday, bringing forward the questions they feel need to be answered: whether the IID can conserve the amount of water needed to transfer, could the environmental costs to the district and community be greater than the revenue of the QSA, are the proceeds of the transfer being utilized for the long-term viability of the agreement and does the QSA protect the Valley’s water rights.
The preliminary report is to bring up the questions, DuMars told the crowd. The final report, expected in March, will answer those questions.
Join the discussion and add your comments to this story! Scroll down or click here and tell us what you think.
Overall now, though, it seems like the goal of any plan B would be proposing a restructuring to deal with what is actually happening, he said.
“Much of our activities, much of the way we address society today is to propose a theoretical solution, and when it doesn’t work pretend it is working,” he said.
That’s what troubles him about the QSA, he said. People wanted it to happen because it’s a great concept to keep agriculture viable and support the economic interest of the Valley, but it’s a product of huge urban political forces, the state, Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River states all pushing for a result. At the end of the day that is not working.
One major concern, both when the water transfer was originally being negotiated and now, is whether IID will retain its water rights on the Colorado River.
As part of the agreement, no, the water rights should not be affected, said Stephen Curtice with Law & Resource Planning Associates, DuMars’ law firm out of New Mexico. But in reality, whenever a city gets a source of water, they rarely give it back. The local water district won’t be using that water in 40 years, leaving it open to lawsuits about whether it should have present perfected water rights to it.
The QSA may have legal protection of the water rights of the Imperial Valley, but it’s not a permanent protection, he said.
Even gearing up to send the water to Los Angeles and San Diego may be a problem as a majority of the programs for water conservation are untested, economically and hydrologically, DuMars continued. If conservation doesn’t work at the anticipated cost, the result will be more revenue going out of the IID for conservation or less water to local users.
There are also problems environmentally when dealing with the Salton Sea. There is a large difference in what the water agencies had originally set aside for QSA mitigation to the sea and what are the projected costs of a fix, said Patrick Redmond, with DuMars’ team.
The key issue is that IID and the Imperial Valley residents are the people damaged if nothing is done to save the Salton Sea, unlike other parties of the agreement, he said.
“The QSA decision was not a victory for the Imperial Valley,” he said. “It shifted to the IID, Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea ecosystem the risk of the state’s default on its mitigation and failure to follow through with restoration.”
That brings up the question of whether mitigation and restoration can be implemented without causing severe hardship to the IID and the Imperial Valley as a whole, he concluded.
Other questions brought up through the one-hour presentation include whether QSA funds have been used on a short-term basis to prop up the water department’s budget and is there enough revenue to cover the costs of transferring the water.
Through the next almost-hour residents and board members got to give their say on the future of the water transfer.
Former IID Director Bruce Kuhn said he saw a lot of assumptions in the presentation, but if the state doesn’t pay for restoration of the sea, it falls on IID. It won’t be easy, but if that were to happen it’s a breach of contract.
“If you have a breach, you stop this damn thing,” he said. “And if you stop this, all of those environmental things go away.”