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Power Play Aims to Protect Water

Board Creates Coachella Energy Commission with 3-1-1 Vote to Ensure Imperial Valley's Water Rights

Imperial Irrigation District power lines run over part of its canal system as the district provides both water and power to Imperial County. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT

The Imperial Irrigation District will create a commission to discuss the future of power in the Coachella Valley in an effort to counter state legislation that would force more members from the Coachella Valley onto the IID board. 

The district Board of Directors approved a resolution to create a Coachella Valley Energy Commission with three “yes” votes, one “no” vote and one abstention during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 1.

The commission, made up of IID directors and representatives from communities in the Coachella Valley, will deliberate on issues related to energy in IID’s service area in the Coachella Valley as well as develop a long-term plan for electrical service in that area.

The idea of the new commission is to keep state legislators from coming in and wanting to change the makeup of the IID board, Division 2 Director and board Vice President JB Hamby said. 

Imperial Irrigation District Division 2 Director JB Hamby

“The main ideas of this resolution are one, to have an active commitment to local solutions, solutions that make state-proposed action unnecessary, and this very importantly leaves all options on the table, either in a positive sense or a negative sense,” said Hamby, who proposed the resolution. “It creates a meaningful forum for direct input of diverse Coachella Valley stakeholders on local, Coachella Valley energy issues to those communities, and it ultimately draws a line, which is that this board cannot, does not and will not accept alterations in the governance of this IID board that will unavoidingly threaten the trustee responsibilities over IID’s water rights.

“It states that we are prepared and instructs staff to prepare all legal defenses should this legislation become law. The whole intent is for that not to take place,” he added.

The resolution comes as Assembly Bill 1021 by Assembly member Chad Mayes, I-Rancho Mirage, is set for a third reading. Mayes’ legislation would require the IID board to increase from five to six directors, with the sixth being a nonvoting director appointed by a Riverside County supervisor, as well as requiring a joint study by the Local Area Formation Commissions of Riverside and Imperial counties on the extension of elected representation to Coachella Valley ratepayers and study option for continued energy service in the area IID serves in Coachella Valley. 

The IID and Coachella Valley Water District entered into a 99-year agreement that IID would provide electrical service in areas of the Coachella Valley that include Indio, Coachella, La Quinta, Mecca, North Shore, Desert Shores, and other unincorporated areas. That agreement ends in 2033.

Part of the resolution calls for an alternative if Mayes’ bill is not removed from the Legislature. If the bill is not removed from the Legislature, “the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors hereby direct the General Manager, General Counsel, and district staff to immediately prepare a Coachella Valley Exit Plan and legal action as defense measures to protect the district from the far reaching and dangerous effects of AB 1021 to the IID, existing agreements, and most importantly to Imperial Valley’s water rights if enacted as law,” according to the resolution. 

Though the resolution passed, the vote was not unanimous, as IID Director Norma Sierra Galindo voted against it and Director Alex Cardenas abstained from voting. 

The lengthy resolution (six pages) is a tremendous amount of information, and it has not been vetted by the Energy Consumers Advisory Commission, which is the organization that usually discusses energy issues and gives a recommendation to the board, Cardenas said. 

IID Division 1 Director Alex Cardenas | COURTESY PHOTO

“I’m not disagreeing with the concept,” he said, but rather asking that the item be brought back at a future meeting. “If that’s not possible, my position will be I’m abstaining from this vote.

“… This is not how we operate. We have successfully defended ourselves from legislation,” Cardenas said. “I ask that we work as a team, not in a vacuum. … This right here, it is operating in a vacuum. I’m asking that this be brought back once our ECAC has been brought up to speed on this.”

Director Javier Gonzalez disagreed that this is new information for the board. 

“I think you should ask for time out from the legislators, because this came from them,” he said, referencing AB1021. “We don’t have time to put it on the next agenda.”

Board President James Hanks agreed that this has been a long-standing issue. 

“I would say this, this board is in 100 percent agreement that we have a trustee responsibility to the trust,” he said, referring to the water rights on the Colorado River. “I think we’re in 100 percent agreement that it will not work to have someone come in to our closed session.”

He added there is still time to look at the bylaws and create a commission that will work for all board members. He called for this item to pull the board together. 

“This does not throw Coachella Valley under the bus,” Hanks said. “It does not demean them. It’s an opportunity to go to them, say ‘we both have a problem. Let’s find a solution.’”

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