Water Authority Board Visits Imperial Valley For a Tour That Highlights Critical Projects and Builds Relationships

Members of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors and staff are pictured with Imperial Valley farmers and Imperial Irrigation District staff at the southwestern end of the All-American Canal during the Water Authority’s Jan. 30 tour of the Imperial Valley.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors visited the Imperial Valley January 30 for a day-long tour that highlighted the Salton Sea mitigation and restoration efforts, conservation efforts under the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), and areas critical to the agency’s Regional Conveyance System Study.

The tour also was important as a way to bring the Water Authority Board together with Imperial Valley farmers, and Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and Imperial County representatives to get to know each other and strengthen relationships by discussing both the challenges unique to each area but also those issues that the Valley and San Diego regions have in common.

In regards to the Regional Conveyance System Study (RCSS) the Water Authority Board approved the study in July 2019 to evaluate a new regional water conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and provide multiple benefits across the Southwest. The Board will hear results from the first phase of the study this spring before deciding whether to move ahead with Phase B.

The Jan. 30 tour started with the RCSS, focusing on southwestern Imperial County, where the All-American Canal meets the Westside Main Canal, an historic location where, starting in 1919, water from a canal system in Mexico first flowed into the western half of the Imperial Valley. It is also the place where three potential routes for a new water conveyance system, now being analyzed in the study, would begin.

“The goal of the study is to determine first, whether there is a cost benefit to the Water Authority and its member agencies in the long-term to build a regional conveyance system to transport our independent Colorado River supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego County,” said Dan Denham, the Water Authority’s deputy general manager.

One specific benefit under the proposed regional conveyance system to the Water Authority, IID, and farmers in the Imperial Valley would be the idea to build an operational storage facility in the Valley’s western area. The facility could help manage water deliveries to serve the needs of agriculture in the valley, while helping the Water Authority manage its transfer supply.

After the visit to the All-American Canal and RCSS proposed site, the trip then included visits to several agriculture fields for a first-hand look at the latest conservation techniques used by farmers under the QSA. Tom Brundy was among the farmers who participated in the tour, and he hosted a lunch as part of the tour at his ranch and storefront, Tom’s Hay Farm. He shared how he has been farming in the Imperial Valley for more than 40 years, and today he grows hay on 4,000 acres. Most of the hay produced by the farm is sold to customers in San Diego County, one of many connections between Imperial and San Diego counties.

“Every farmer in Imperial County is conserving water, and quite a bit,” said Brundy, president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau. “I have subsurface drip on alfalfa, we’re using soil monitors and soil sensors to help us in our water scheduling, and we continue to modify our methods using new technology that saves water.”

Another stop on the tour was Jack Bros. Inc., also an innovator in on-farm conservation. Alex Jack is a third-generation farmer using pump back systems and permanent drip irrigation. Many of his crops, from lettuce to cauliflower, are grown with zero water runoff. Jack calls his progressive approach “out of the box thinking.”

“My goal is to be the best farmer possible,” said Jack. “If I happen to conserve water, that’s fantastic, but most of the new high-technology methods are conserving water.”

Two other longtime Imperial Valley farmers, Larry Cox and Craig Elmore, served as tour guides on the bus, sharing their knowledge of Imperial Valley agriculture as the tour made its way from the southwestern portion of the county to the northern section and the Salton Sea.

The southeast side of the Salton Sea was the final stop on the Imperial Valley tour. Board members got an update on restoration efforts, including the 500-acre Red Hill Marina Wetlands Project, one of the first Salton Sea Management Program projects. Representatives from the California Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife discussed the State’s Salton Sea Management Program, the phased approach to restoration that has begun with a ten-year phase one plan.

The IID also provided an update on the QSA Joint Powers Authority mitigation projects at the sea. IID Director Alex Cardenas and Imperial County Air Pollution Control District Officer Matt Dessert also joined the tour at the sea and discussed the need to work together more closely to ensure the sea’s challenges are addressed. Longtime farmer Al Kalin also presented on the importance of the sea to agriculture.

It was reported during the tour that the Red Hill Marina wetlands project could be completed by the end of the year or early in 2021. The project is a partnership between the Federal and State government, and IID – with a portion of the funding coming from a federal assistance program that QSA JPA helped fund. Another project discussed was the State’s Species Conservation Habitat project, a nearly 4,000 acre-habitat expected to begin construction by the year’s end and be completed in 2023. The State also discussed plans to do another 9,000 acres of dust suppression projects at the sea over the next couple of years. The first project related to that, about 150 acres, was just completed by the mouth of the New River.

The Imperial Valley tour, which highlighted the partnerships between San Diego and Imperial County, was part of an on-going series of tours led by the Water Authority’s Colorado River Program.

The Water Authority wishes to thank everyone who participated in the tour, including the IID staff and all the farmers who joined us for lunch. Additionally, we’d like to thank the Brundy family for hosting the lunch, the California Women in Agriculture for also helping with the lunch and farmer Paula Pangle for the deserts.

For more information about the Water Authority and future tours, contact staff member Darren Simon at 760.337-1386 or at dsimon@sdcwa.org.