IID exhausts Riverside County into repealing net metering ordinance, dealing blow to solar

The Desert Sun published an article on Sunday, June 23. Below is a clip from the article, followed by a link to the complete article online.

IID will likely withdraw the lawsuit it filed last year over the ordinance, the district’s General Counsel Frank Oswalt said, but it will still fight to recoup its legal fees.

“We applaud (the board of supervisors) and believe it’s the right decision, but we’re dismayed it’s taken this long and at such a tremendous cost,” Oswalt said. “In order to make the IID whole, there has to be recognition that we’ve incurred substantial legal costs. It’s not right for them to just walk away. The IID Board has spent hundreds of thousands on legal fees and this can’t be over.”

The complete article can be accessed here.

Riverside Supervisors Contemplate $350 Million Tax for Salton Sea

A proposed tax district would help pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea if approved.

By California News Wire Services, News Partner | May 21, 2019 5:26 pm ET

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a four- month postponement of a meeting on a proposed tax district to pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the Board of Supervisors moved the previously set June 11 meeting to Oct. 15, at the same location — the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club at 9115 Sea View Drive in Mecca.

The meeting time is currently set for 11 a.m. Any changes will be publicized.

According to Executive Office staff, the date change was necessary because drawing up specifics of how the proposed Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District will work requires additional time, and sending notices to everyone who may be impacted by the tax district has also proved to be a chore.

Supervisors Manuel Perez and Jeff Hewitt are seated on the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Authority formed by the board last October. Both men are slated to attend the October meeting.

The Salton Sea EIFD will require voter support to be established.

EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects. The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the receding 360-square-mile lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.

The proposed EIFD would be fixed between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.

An EIFD relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.

Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving and fortifying what’s left of the dying lake, most of which is in Imperial County.

According to the Executive Office, the Salton Sea EIFD would ensure funding for an earthen dam to control water loss.

Sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.

Executive Office staff pointed out in October that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing proactive done.

Proposition 66, the $4 billion water bond measure approved by voters last June, set aside $200 million for Sea projects. If the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.

Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.

For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, 2018, leaving the area’s future ecology in doubt.

— By City News Service

From the Desert Sun: Bill requiring IID board seats for Coachella Valley paused until 2020; IID says divestment still an option

Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published 6:30 p.m. PT May 16, 2019 | Updated 2:59 a.m. PT May 18, 2019

Assemblymember Chad Mayes’ controversial bill to add Riverside County representatives to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Board of Directors hit a roadblock on Thursday when the Assembly Appropriations Committee put it on hold until 2020.

The bill, A.B. 854, failed to advance to the Assembly floor but also avoided being relegated to committee’s dreaded “suspense file,” which would have effectively defeated it. The Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill in 2020.

After Thursday’s hearing, Mayes said the fight over voting rights and representation for IID ratepayers residing in Riverside County was far from over. Mayes said he planned to meet with the IID Board of Directors in El Centro Friday morning to discuss his concerns about Riverside County representation on IID’s board.

“This bill’s not dead. We’re continuing to work on it. It’s incredibly important for all the local stakeholders to get together,” Mayes said. “We have to figure this out.”

IID and Coachella Valley residents have fought about representation for almost a century, since the irrigation district and the Coachella Valley Water District reached an agreement to expand IID’s jurisdiction to sell electricity in the Coachella Valley. Local officials from the Coachella Valley have lobbied for additional seats on IID’s board since at least seats 2007. Mayes said he remained committed to ensuring Coachella Valley ratepayers won representation on the IID board.

“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities or cut service altogether,” he said. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation.”

Mayes’ bill proposes adding six seats to IID’s five-member board to give the 92,000 Riverside County customers who account for 60% of IID’s electricity sales proportional representation. The bill generated swift backlash from both IID’s board and Imperial Valley activists, who called it a Riverside County power grab and said it threatened their water rights.

After preliminary discussions with Mayes, IID board President Erik Ortega sent the assemblyman a strongly worded letter rejecting future conversations.

The tactic backfired when the Assembly Local Government Committee advanced the bill with a 6-2 vote on April 24 after some committee members said they voted in favor of it largely due to their disapproval of the letter.

A week later, Ortega said, if the bill advanced further, IID would consider withdrawing services from the Coachella Valley.

IID lobbyist Antonio Ortega said the district was pleased with Thursday’s outcome and committed to sitting down to talk with Mayes, Coachella Valley Water District and ratepayers about representation.

“Regardless of the outcome of today, the purpose was to continue to have this dialogue at the local level,” he said. “It’s easier to have a discussion without having the threat of A.B. 854 hanging over our heads.”

Even though IID threatened to divest from the Coachella Valley if the bill advanced, Ortega said the district felt under threat by A.B. 854. He said the bill threatened the delicate relationship between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District, IID’s current governance structure and potentially the district’s water rights.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Ortega said, citing Newton’s Third Law. “Divestment isn’t a threat, it’s an option.”

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, condemned IID’s political brinksmanship after it proposes divesting from the Coachella Valley, but on Thursday, he echoed the district’s talking points and said fights about representation on IID’s board would be best solved locally.

The powerful Democratic lawmaker represents both the eastern Coachella Valley and the Imperial Valley in the Assembly and has said he opposes the bill but thinks questions about Riverside County representation merit a discussion.

“The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation. Putting A.B. 854 on hold will allow for these negotiations to move forward,” he said.


IID acts to advance Salton Sea restoration projects

May 7, 2019
Contact: Robert Schettler 1-760-427-5264 le 3 A

IID acts to advance Salton Sea restoration projects

The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors, Tuesday, approved an agreement with the state of California that paves the way for restoration projects identified in the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Program to move forward.

The easement agreement entered into between the district and the state, through the California Department of Water Resources, grants access to IID-owned lands that border the sea for constructing and maintaining the project. The action allows the California Natural Resources Agency to seek proposals for design-build contracts for the Species Conservation Habitat Project, which intends to provide habitat for fish and birds while suppressing harmful dust on Salton Sea lands that are no longer under water.

“Today’s action by the IID Board will help these important projects cross the finish line,” said Henry Martinez, general manager, who worked closely with state officials on the agreement. “IID has committed a significant amount of time and resources into the development of the Species Conservation Habitat Project and we look forward to seeing the project completed.”

The Species Conservation Habitat Project encompasses about 3,770 acres of exposed playa, which spans the New River at the Salton Sea. As set forth in the state’s 10-year Sea restoration plan, the project includes ponds using blended water from the New River and the Salton Sea, which will be more than 6 feet deep to accommodate a sustainable fishery.

The California Natural Resources Agency is currently in the process of seeking responses to a request for qualifications to develop a short list of bidders for the project. 

The easement agreement allows for the planning, design, construction, implementation, operation, maintenance, repair, etc., of the restoration project. f

Valley Voice: Why this Drought Contingency Plan is no friend to the Salton Sea

The following Op-Ed was published in the Desert Sun on March 30, 2019. You can read the opinion piece on the Desert Sun’s website by clicking here.


Valley Voice: Why this Drought Contingency Plan is no friend to the Salton Sea

Norma Sierra Galindo, Special to The Desert Sun Published 5:00 a.m. PT March 30, 2019

The March 26 opinion piece by Tom Buschatzke and 13 other Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan proponents to persuade the public that the DCP is good for the Salton Sea would have been better served – and made more believable – by a show of good faith rather than a show of force.

People who know the Salton Sea as an actual place, rather than a place on a map, can tell the difference.

That Buschatzke and his fellow river contractors would be defiantly for a plan that turns the Salton Sea into its first casualty is sad but unsurprising. For them, the Salton Sea was the final impediment on the road to the DCP, not the finish line.   

But for the nongovernmental organizations that lent their names to the op-ed, the DCP sans Salton Sea is an awkward compromise they must feel the need to defend. That’s because the outstanding feature they share is that they are funding partners (read recipients) of the Walton Family Foundation,a private charitable organization led by the heirs to the Walmart fortune.

The Walton group was an early leading advocate of the DCP and, to be fair, has advocated on behalf of the Salton Sea, too. But now that IID has decided to stand with the sea and not with the DCP, the WFF and its satellite groups want to make sure the district stands alone. 

The WFF used to be for the Salton Sea, before it was against it.

Foundation executives used to fly over it every so often, touching down long enough to commiserate with local officials on how best to meet the environmental challenges there. Now they perpetuate the myth that a DCP with or without IID will have zero impact on the sea, and they cite IID board minutes from 2018 to prove that we agree with them.  

Of course, that was last year’s DCP that didn’t cut IID out of the deal and try to “disappear” the Salton Sea, a critical fact omitted from the op-ed that, in addition to being a distortion of the truth, renders the 2019 DCP a completely different project. 

What makes it so distinct is the plan’s exclusive reliance on the seemingly inexhaustible water portfolio of the Metropolitan Water District, which might be fine when resources are plentiful, as they are now, but what about when they aren’t?

How likely is it that these good hydrological times that we are currently enjoying will last for the duration of the DCP – and what happens when they don’t?

And if the unthinkable does happen, as it so often does whenever there’s some tradeoff that involves historic river-sharing pacts and the Salton Sea, and MWD is casting about for nearly 2 million acre-feet of water to meet California’s storage obligations under the DCP, how will the sea fare when the only place to find that water is in the Imperial Valley?

Norma Sierra Galindo, vice president of the Imperial Irrigation District board of directors. 

County Supervisors support IID’s fight against AB 854

By TOM BODUS, Editor in Chief Imperial Valley Press
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors Tuesday responded to proposed bill in the California Assembly that would give Riverside County majority representation on the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors essentially with a hell no.

Imperial County District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelly.

Actually, that’s precisely how District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelly expressed it shortly before the board voted unanimously to oppose Assembly Bill 854. The proposed legislation was introduced by Republican Chad Mayes on Feb. 20. It would add six seats to the IID Board of Directors, all of which would be filled by Riverside County in an election to be held in 2020.

Kelly did question whether IID shouldn’t consider another option, which is to drop power service to Riverside County altogether.

“I suggest IID just get out of the electricity business in Coachella Valley,” he said. “Turn it over to somebody else and see what they like about rates then.”

That’s not the first time that notion has come up in either a Board of Supervisors meeting or an IID meeting. When asked about that option, IID communications specialist Robert Schettler replied by emphasizing the position the district has held to from the start: “This is a serious matter for the IID and can only be seen as a direct attack on the authority of the IID Board and the water and energy rights it holds in trust and to which it is duty-bound to protect.”

Schettler noted the long-standing 1934 agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District, giving IID the right to serve energy to in Riverside County and for which IID pays Coachella Valley Water District 8 percent of its energy net proceeds. Those payments have totaled $45 million to date, he said.

Schettler also referred to a letter to Mayes on Feb. 27 from IID general counsel Frank Oswalt. It explained both districts about bound by federal law to honor the 1934 agreement.

“In short, IID has done nothing more than what is in the best interest of its residents and customers and fully authorized by federal and state law, which has been memorialized in contracts with several parties,” Oswalt said in the letter.

IID and Riverside County have been embroiled in a lawsuit filed by IID that would have required the utility to renew its net metering program in the county. In November 2018, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing the ordinance.

Mayes’ bill is largely seen as an extension of that conflict. Riverside County represents approximately 60 percent of IID’s electrical customer base, and the argument is that those ratepayers can’t vote in IID elections and have no voice in its decision-making.

However, the AB 854 would also give Riverside a majority voice in the district’s water management, and no one in Imperial County appears to be interested in yielding on that point.

AB 854 – Some very bad legislation…

On March 5, 2019, the Imperial County Building & Construction Trades sent a letter to Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) asking him to reconsider AB 854, legislation he introduced that has several issues.

This is the letter in opposition of AB 854. If you agree that this piece of legislation is bad for the Imperial Valley contact Assemblymember Mayes, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso.