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IID threaten possible Coachella Valley exit over proposed legislation

The Imperial Irrigation District could discuss a possible Coachella Valley exit plan if proposed legislation that the board says would "give Coachella Valley energy ratepayers a say over IID’s water rights and policy in Imperial Valley."

IID's board of directors adopted a resolution on Tuesday that seeks to provide an alternative to AB 1021. The legislation was introduced by Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley and would require that the IID board increase from 5 to 6 members, with the additional position appointed by the 4th District Riverside County Supervisor, which is currently Manuel Perez.

On June 1, 2021, AB 1021 passed its third reading on the assembly floor with 73 aye votes, 1 nay, and 5 no votes recorded. Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) was among the aye votes.

“Allowing a member installed from outside the water service area to play any kind of governing role over Imperial Valley’s water undermines the trust obligation of the IID Board and poses serious risks to IID’s water rights and our users’ right to service as affirmed multiple times by the United States Supreme Court,” said JB Hamby, Vice President of the IID Board.

Hamby continued, “That is why this local alternative is required. The Board’s action will ensure our Coachella Valley customers are better served and Imperial Valley’s water rights are better protected.”

The company says that if the legislation is signed into law, IID management and staff are directed to immediately prepare a Coachella Valley Exit Plan and legal action as defensive measures to protect the district and Imperial Valley’s water rights if enacted as law.

IID's alternative to Mayes' legislation calls for the formation of a Coachella Valley Energy Commission. The commission would be composed of IID Directors and a diverse array of Coachella Valley representatives appointed from the city of Coachella, city of Indio, city of La Quinta, Cove Communities Services Commission, Salton Community Services District, a Coachella Valley tribal reservation, unincorporated Riverside County, and two at-large members.

IID says the commission would deliberate on and represent the needs and concerns of IID’s Coachella Valley customers on local energy issues in the near-term and develop a long-term strategic plan for continued energy service to IID’s Coachella Valley energy service area after the expiration of IID’s 99-year power lease in 2033.

That plan would analyze issues of separate representation by and for ratepayers and determine costs and potential impacts to residential ratepayers and low-income households.

“This is the preferred alternative for the IID and our Coachella Valley customers. We can’t wait until the 99-year power lease expires in 2033 to plan the future. We have to come together, sit down, and find common ground.” He continued, “In doing so, we’ll develop a win-win for both areas and the region’s ratepayers overall,” said IID Board President James C. Hanks.

Mayes issued a statement in response to IID's resolution, writing to News Channel 3:

"I am very thankful that IID has realized that the status quo of disenfranchising Coachella Valley voters is untenable. I appreciate that they have put forward a proposal for some level of local representation.

Although a step in the right direction, it still falls short of laying out a plan towards the ultimate goal of providing the right to vote for Coachella Valley residents.

In consultation with our local City and County leaders, I'll continue to work with IID on a concrete plan of action."

At the Capitol in Sacramento, Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) spoke of the IID Board’s resolution passed just hours earlier.

Speaking from the Assembly floor, Garcia said he was optimistic that parties will come together and come up with a reasonable and amicable solution.

“Locally there are preferred pathways that both the Imperial Irrigation District and local stakeholders would rather take to solve this problem,” he said.

IID will develop a set of bylaws and MOU throughout June in consultation with its Coachella Valley stakeholders.

The Board will consider the draft bylaws and MOU as information at its July 6 Board meeting in El Centro and for action in the Coachella Valley at its July 13 La Quinta Board meeting.

“I’m looking forward to working with our Coachella Valley stakeholders on the Commission and with Assemblymen Mayes and Garcia to ensure that the bill is promptly pulled from the Legislature,” said Hamby.

The IID Board of Directors manages the single largest water right on the Colorado River for the benefit of IID’s Imperial Valley service area. During Tuesday’s presentation on the item, Hamby explained that the IID Board’s most critical role is its trustee responsibility over Imperial Valley’s water rights.

Map of IID service area

This isn't the first time in recent years that the IID board has threatened to leave the Coachella Valley.

In 2019, IID also threaten to leave due to a proposed state law introduced by Mayes that also called to add six Riverside County seats to IID’s board. The bill died in January 2020.

AB 1021, which has similar concept as the previous bill, was introduced in May 2021.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates.

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Jesus Reyes

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