In an effort to stretch California's use of the Colorado River, the Metropolitan Water District's (MWD) reports that its board of directors recently approved principles for a 35-year water deal that would pay farmers in the Palo Verde Valley to annually set aside a portion of their land and rotate their crops - taking as much as 29 percent of valley farm land out of production. The saved water will be transferred to urban Southern California. In effect, the deal allows farmers within the irrigation district to be able to sell about 25 percent of their rights to Colorado water, according to the Palo Verde Valley Times.

The proposed program would complement the existing and proposed water transfers with the neighboring Imperial Irrigation District and would be the largest and longest water transfer of its kind in California history, providing up to 3.63 million acre-feet of water over the term of the proposed program.

The 35-year pact is similar in concept to a two-year pilot program between MWD and the Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID), which saved more than 185,000 acre-feet of water from 1992-94 because MWD paid valley farmers for letting their land lie fallow, in return for the water that otherwise would have been used to grow corps. The test program marked the first time urban and agricultural interests with Colorado River rights partnered in a water management and crop rotation program.

For each acre set aside, farmers will receive a one-time payment of $3,170 for signing up and $550 annually, beginning in 2002. According to the plan, MWD will initially invest up to $84 million. MWD also will invest $6 million - more than $16 million in escalated dollars over the life of the proposed project - in local community improvement programs to offset any potential economic impacts from the proposed program.