The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 19, 2014

Abundant water in California's Imperial Valley belies drought


“We recognize we live in an area that is blessed to have strong, senior rights on the Colorado River,” said Linsey Dale, executive director of the county Farm Bureau. “We are aware that other areas are desperate for the water we have.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for conservation has not prompted much official action here, but it has been much discussed.

“Obviously it makes us rally around our water rights more than usual,” said Tina Anderholt Shields, Colorado River resources manager for the Imperial Irrigation District.

Even if the federal agency that manages the Colorado River is forced to impose drought rules already adopted by the seven states, Arizona and Nevada would see their allocations cut before any reduction would be imposed on the Imperial Irrigation District.

Farming is the foundation of the valley’s economy. Only 3 percent of the valley’s water allocation is for residential use.

A decade ago, under pressure from state and federal officials, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to the nation’s largest sale of water from farms to cities. If the district did not sign the contract with the San Diego County Water Authority, the federal government had threatened to take the water without compensation.

The sale continues to be controversial in the Imperial Valley, the topic of hard-fought elections to the irrigation district board. The current board says it is not interested in selling more water.

To reduce water usage for the San Diego sale, farmers are paid to leave about 40,000 acres a year fallow. The Cox family, which farms about 3,300 acres, thinks of fallowing as a four-letter word.

“Fallowing is bad for our economy,” said Larry Cox, Thomas’ father. “It’s bad for farmland, bad for farming operations, bad for companies that depend on farming. And it’s very disruptive between the landlord and the farmer.”

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