Irrigators to monitor economic, social and environmental effects

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- A bill that would limit the ability of irrigators to make long-term water transfers to urban areas has passed an Assembly committee after major revisions.

AB 2049, by Assemblyman Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, passed the Water, Parks and Wildlife committee on an 8-4 vote after substantial amendments.

The bill originally sought to prohibit the state's Water Resources director from approving transfers with a term longer than 10 years.

But the committee tempered it to restrict irrigators from transferring water long-term, then replacing the transferred allotment with ground water -- unless the aquifer pumping is regularly monitored and the transfer's overall impacts are studied.

The committee wants irrigators to evaluate the economic, social and environmental effects of the transfer.

Rural jurisdictions, especially in California's San Joaquin Valley, have long feared losing the water allocations that districts receive through state contracts. A sale last year of up to 14,000 acre-feet annually from the San Joaquin Valley to a growing urban district in Southern California helped to stoke those fears anew.

But they're not shared by observers and state officials. Despite crop-market swings and drought conditions making life hard for farmers, large, long-term transfers are considered anomalies, occasional occurrences whose frequency likely won't increase by much.

The sale last year was reported to amount to $5,500 per acre-foot. Prices paid by farmers for transferred water can reach the $500-per-acre-foot range.

The bill is opposed by the California League of Food Processors, Northern California Water Association, Valley Ag Water Coalition, Western Growers and the San Joaquin Valley's Kern County Water Agency.

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