With help from the federal government, California water officials hope a new department will bring needed efficiency to a water-trading system that has caused frustrations among farmers.

The Water Transfer Office was created in early November within the state Department of Water Resources. For the first two years, its primary focus will be working with federal regulators to create a joint environmental document designed to cover much of the permitting process for water transfers, said Teresa Geimer, coordinator of the state's drought water bank.

After that, the office will serve to manage traffic through the state and federal approval processes for individual water transfers.

"This is a way to do the matrix management from one office," Geimer said.

The agencies hope for an environmental document that would be good for 10 years. If a water seller could satisfy most, if not all, of the environmental-permitting process by following the guidelines set out by one or both of the documents -- a federal environmental impact statement and a state environmental impact report.

Transferred water can flow through the State Water Project or the federal Central Valley Project, or both -- so both agencies might be involved in the approval of any given transfer.

The state is also moving away from employing a drought water bank in favor of a uniform system of facilitating sales between individuals, said Geimer, who is helping to create the new office.

The federal cooperation comes after a pledge by federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to work more closely with state officials on fixing California's water problems.

-- Wes Sander

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