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Fallow Fields "Grow" Water

Over a two year span, from August 1, 1992 to July 31, 1994, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) compensated farmers in the Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID) for letting their land lie fallow, in return for the water that otherwise would have been used to grow crops.

The Bureau of Reclamation joined with PVID and MWD, plus the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), to form a five member measurement committee for ongoing program review. Both IID and CVWD stand in line behind PVID but ahead of MWD for priority use of the river's water.

BUYING UNUSED WATER

Farmers in the program were paid a cumulative amount of $1,240 per fallowed acre over the two year demonstration term. The Metropolitan Water District received about 4.6 acre-feet per year of saved water for each acre of fallowed land, at an average price of $143 per acre-foot. MWD's final bill came to $25 million.

Fallowed land totaled 20,215 acres out of the 93,000 acres available for crops in the Palo Verde Irrigation District, or 22 percent of the district's agricultural capacity. If it had been planted, it would have grown mostly hay and some cotton and truck crops.

RESERVED UNTIL 2000

Transferred water amounted to 185,978 acre feet over the two years of the program, equivalent to about one sixth of MWD average annual consumption from the Colorado River. The storage and release of this saved water is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. MWD can have it when it wants until the year 2000, but if Lake Mead fills to the brim before then, the fallowing program water will be the first to spill.

MWD is entitled to only 550,000 acre-feet from the Colorado, but also legally consumes the unused portion of Arizona's entitlement. As Arizona approaches full utilization of its rights to Colorado River water, the Metropolitan Water District is aggressively seeking alternative supplies.

PROMISING CONCEPT

Palo Verde Valley pioneered the use of Colorado River water by filing the "first in time, first in rights" claim on the river in 1877., Now, the farmers of the PVID have pioneered another new trail, this time leading the way toward a promising concept in the transfer of Colorado River water. Would they do it again? The post-program survey says--Yes.