The California Energy Commission on April 12 approved the use of freshwater to cool San Diego Gas & Electric's Palomar Energy Project as a backup when reclaimed water from Escondido becomes unavailable. SDG&E will be able to use raw water from the Colorado River drawn from a nearby aqueduct operated by the San Diego County Water Authority. The utility petitioned the commission for a licensing change after the water reclamation system suffered unexpected outages. "We don't want to use raw water," James Avery, SDG&E senior vice-president, told a CEC siting committee at a March 24 hearing on the change. However, he said that because the plant will be crucial to the reliability of the grid in San Diego, "We do need to have some kind of an emergency backup that we can call upon." The company will have to pay the authority a mitigation fee of $522 an acre-foot to fund water conservation programs in the event that it must draw on the aqueduct. The CEC's action is fully consistent with its policy to minimize the use of freshwater for power plant cooling, said commissioner John Geesman. The county water authority is receiving more water from the Colorado River under a 2003 transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District. At first, the water will be diverted from farms that go fallow, but soon it will be produced by projects designed to cut off water now flowing to Mexico. The projects - including lining the All American Canal and a local storage dam - will stop water seepage and flows to Mexico. The projects will dry out farms that sustain 25,000 Mexicans, depress already meager fishing incomes in the Gulf of California, dry up remaining wetlands, and hamper economic growth in the area, according to attorney Malissa Hathaway-McKeith of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard, & Smith. She represents numerous parties who have sued to halt projects in Imperial County. SDG&E would use a bit less than 1 percent of the river water delivered to the San Diego water agency through the aqueduct should the reclaimed water become unavailable. When the CEC approved construction of the Palomar plant in 2003, it did not require dry cooling in favor of wet cooling with reclaimed water.