In the previous article Brawley farmer, Rusty Jordan explained how Decision 1600 led to the Quantitative Settlement Agreement and how the IID became an electrical company. Jordan brings his argument back to solar spoils and El Centro farmer, Michael Abattii.
To further understand the importance of water and what the State will do to get what it wants. A look at solar panels gives a glimpse.
Green energy is critical to California. The panels take a million dollars an acre in capital investment before transmission. They require a bit of labor to install. Once installed there may be one employee per $300,000,000 of panels or 300 acres. To clean the panels, a minute amount of water is needed to periodically wash the panels.
The State, in its wisdom, has excluded the panels from property taxes for 15 years, recently they extended the exception for another ten years.
When Las Vegas was growing, the federal government sold land into private hands so Las Vegas could expand. No one made an effort to buy federal lands in the path of IID's electrical transmission service area. There are millions of acres of wasted desert federally owned along the transmission corridors. Instead investors bought farmland close to transmission lines, retired it from crop production, and put in solar panels. Land that had used five acre/feet per acre now used .1 a/f per acre.
The labor used to grow crops disappeared, the machinery used to grow the crops disappeared, the local businesses that serviced the farm lost customers.
The County still got property taxes on the land, but not on the solar panels or infrastructure. Land that had used water now stopped using water, giving IID free water to transfer to Coachella. IID rubbed its hands together and saw a gift horse. The community was screwed.
The solar companies donated to the local supervisors and got permits to build. Over 17,000 acres using 100,000 plus a/f were shut down as if by magic. If California really had any interest in the Imperial Valley except for water, they could have had the Bureau of Land Management put land up for bid, sell it to solar developers, then the IID could have conserved water to service washing the solar panels. Or California could have let the exemption on solar property taxes expire bringing income to the County. The actions must be viewed as knowing actions of government to create a known effect. Accomplished: water no longer used in the Imperial Valley and removed to cities. Under runs going to MWD, free. No increased tax revenue for the area. No jobs.
Michael Abatti saw clearly that the Imperial Irrigation Districts’ 2013 Equitable Distribution Plan had prioritized everyone ahead of farmers. He filed to rectify this and won. On this point, he also prevailed on appeal. He was drawn into a labyrinth of legal wrangling, and wordsmithing about water rights caused by the public and legal assertions of the IID. A farmer holds a water right, a right to water, a right to service. A reading the Appellate Decision should be done with a jaundiced eye. The practical direction of the State is to remove water from the IID and move it to the cities. Not paying for it is the preferable method.
Abatti has grown different crops for years, these crops have had their water needs met. The climate brings cold, heat, wind, and rain. These events occur at various stages of growth of the crops. The daily, weekly, and annual use of water per crop, farmer, or acre goes up and down. Time has seen improvements in water delivery in the canals, and in the fields. The plants have not improved a lot in their need for water, but in cases, a given amount of water will yield more food or forage. The whole effect is as time has gone by, less water is needed for a given set of conditions — crop, soil, and climate. Ways to further increase water efficiency are known but are too expensive to profitably produce crops.
The District contends that the farmers are asking for specific amounts of water. The variability of nature makes this assertion absurd. Abatti said the IID processed adequate supply of water in the form of its Colorado River entitlement to meet his reasonable and beneficial needs of his crops.
The District holds these entitlements as something called a ‘Water Right,’ which they hold under Irrigation District Law in Trust for the Lands of the District. The District as long as it has sufficient waters to fulfill the needs of its lands, shall deliver water for these needs. If some land that has used water is not farmed, then the amount of water available within the district increases and thus the share available to the farmer in the district increases.
Next week Jordan continues on with the Abatti v IID case and the meaning of words.