The Imperial Valley has been a senior water rights holder on the Colorado River for more than 100 years. Since our founding, our farmers, and the local Imperial Irrigation District, have long viewed our water seniority as both a property right and a responsibility. As much as we believe in upholding the rule of law, we are equally committed to being responsible water users and doing our part to keep the river healthy enough to meet the needs of all seven states. Imperial Valley farms and regional water agencies have implemented a host of conservation measures throughout the past twenty years, allowing farmers to conserve large amounts of water while still producing the food our country depends on.  

The Imperial Irrigation District alone conserves and transfers an average of 500,000 acre-feet of water every year, totaling over 7 million acre-feet since 2003. Our California partners - the Coachella Valley Water District, San Diego County Water Authority, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Bard, and Palo Verde Irrigation Districts - have all employed local conservation measures of their own, further reducing dependence on the Colorado River.

For the past 20 years, the Imperial Valley has also pioneered partnerships with existing urban areas, sending much of its conserved water to roughly 4.3 million Southern California families each year. These farm-to-urban transfers help further reduce pressure on stressed Western water supplies and should be the model for other states.

And these savings have been achieved even though the Colorado River is the only source of water for the Imperial Valley. Many of the other six Colorado River Basin states have additional supplies to rely on, but without Colorado River water, the farms, businesses, and families of the Imperial Valley have no other options.

Despite this obstacle, California entities receiving Colorado River water were the first among all seven states to offer new voluntary savings from conservation and other measures, totaling an additional 750,000 acre-feet annually of water available to help stabilize the Colorado River.

This brings the Imperial Valley’s total contribution of conserved water to more than 24% of its total entitlement. We stand committed to doing our part but can’t do it alone. Any mandatory water supply cuts must be spread across all seven states for us to arrive at a lasting solution.

We firmly believe California’s history of water conservation success to support ag-to-urban transfers provides a template for other states that, with financial help from the federal government, will lead to success for all Colorado River water users. As Henry Martinez, General Manager of Imperial Irrigation District pointed out, “Other states with junior water rights preferred to defer hard planning and investment decisions until a crisis was imminent. . .”  

As an illustration of Mr. Martinez’s point, according to the Arizona Daily Star, 96% of all irrigated agriculture in Yuma County, Arizona continues to use flood irrigation. This is exactly the kind of opportunity where federal dollars can help improve water conservation, while protecting winter food production that the country depends on. The Colorado River has reached the crisis stage and the time to implement conservation measures in the other six Colorado River states is now.

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All Americans have an interest in resolving issues on the Colorado River. States west of the Rockies produce more than 80% of our domestic fruits, nuts and vegetables, much of which is dependent on the Colorado River. And when winter comes, and farming is not possible in much of the United States, the Imperial Valley and nearby Yuma are producing at their peak, providing Americans with healthy produce throughout the year.

Growing food at home is water-efficient, keeps food available without depending on unstable foreign sources, is safer than food from many other locations, and protects the environment by cutting down on food miles getting it to the grocery store.

Applying the Imperial Valley’s successful strategies in the other Colorado River Basin States, and implementing California’s modeling proposal, is the fastest and most equitable way to preserve the river for all who depend on it and preserving a safe, affordable, domestic food supply for all Americans.

Stephen Benson is a farmer in California’s Imperial Valley, a board member of Imperial Valley Water (IVH2O), former board member of the Imperial Irrigation District and a current board member of the Family Farm Alliance and Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association.

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