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Groundwater Crisis in the Borrego Valley

Borrego Springs, CA is located in the Borrego Valley, an isolated, seventy square mile basin surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP). The Borrego Valley Aquifer is its sole source of water. California grants landowners rights to the groundwater under their property and offers little authority for managing an aquifer as a community resource with devastating consequences for Borrego.

The Borrego Valley with a population of approximately 3,000 and 4,500 acres of agriculture uses roughly 23,000 acre/ft (1 acre/ft. = 326,000 gallons) of water per year; about the same as the Vista Irrigation District that serves approximately 120,000 people and about 1,000 acres of agriculture. Seventy per cent of the water pumped from the Borrego Valley aquifer each year is used by water intensive agriculture, twenty per cent by five golf courses that make little attempt to conserve water, and only ten per cent by residential and commercial users and the ABDSP combined. Only the latter pay for their water and support groundwater management efforts.

The aquifer is being drawn down at a rate nearly five times the recharge rate of 4,800 acre/ft. per year. The groundwater water level has been dropping over two feet per year for more than twenty years. The overdraft is already having a deleterious effect on flora and fauna in parts of the ABDSP in and bordering the Borrego Valley, and threatens, among other things, the endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, palm oases, major wildflower habitat, and mesquite woodland. Wells near the periphery of the aquifer that produced high quality water for years are being abandoned as the groundwater water level and quality fall. An abundance of evidence indicates that, at projected extraction rates, the aquifer will reach a critical point in 30 years or less. It is a situation that, sooner than later, will destroy our community and critical natural habitat in the Valley.

Attempts to find a solution have failed. In part, the difficulty has been a studied ignorance of the unique, local situation on the part of San Diego County and its Board of Supervisors. Attempts to cater for a number of conflicting, vested interests in crafting a solution to the groundwater water problem have reduced local efforts to solve it to well-intentioned dithering. Lack of consensus locally has paralyzed the Borrego Springs Water District Board of Directors and enabled elected officials and governmental agencies at all levels to demur with impunity.

The damage to human, plant, and animal communities in and around the Valley will be catastrophic if interests that favor and profit from unrestricted water use, i.e., farmers and golf courses, prevail and continue to mine the aquifer. It is a classic zero sum gain situation. Simple arithmetic demonstrates conclusively the hard truth that no solution can satisfy all, or even most, of the interests involved.

Still, water use must very soon be reduced to sustainable level or the future of Borrego Springs, the Borrego Valley, and significant portions of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are bleak indeed.

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