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Q & A About Water in The Borrego Valley

October 2003


Q.        Is there an overdraft of the aquifer supplying the Borrego Valley?


A.        Yes.  The numbers speak for themselves:[1]


            Average Annual Recharge  (1981-2003)                          4,800 acre/ft/yr
Average Annual Use             same period                     -22,300 acre/ft/yr

Average Annual Overdraft   same period                     -17,500 acre/ft/yr


The water table has been dropping by about two feet per year for the past 22 years.  In the last year alone, however, test wells in the north (agricultural) end of the Valley have fallen by six feet – a  sudden and alarming  change.[2]


Q.        How long will the groundwater supply last?


A.        Based on standard agricultural use rates, a1990 BWD study[3] estimated accessible water would last until 2080 if usage did not increase. The same study estimated water quality could be impacted as early as 2025 – again, if usage did not increase. 


It now appears, however, that these estimates were far too optimistic.  Indeed, the “milky water” being pumped for daily use in some areas of the Valley indicates that we are already encountering water quality problems in those areas[4].    Because it will likely take 10 years and millions of dollars to reverse our water use patterns, we must begin immediately if we are to prevent an economic and ecologic disaster in our Valley.

Q.        How much will it cost to pump water from increasing depths?


A.        We know with certainty that for each foot the water table drops the cost of pumping an acre foot of water[5] increases. We also know that as we bore ever deeper into the aquifer, water quality declines and more treatment is required to purify it, which adds still more costs.  While we cannot say with certainty exactly what the incremental cost of raising water from increasing depths and treating it to make it potable are, it is nonetheless safe to say that such costs will be considerable and will continue to increase so long as we overdraft the aquifer.


Q.        Are you saying the quality of the water changes as the water table drops?  How does water quality decline in the same aquifer?


A.        Minerals and other dissolved solids in the aquifer settle,  so lower levels of the aquifer naturally contain more of them.  Also, salts and fertilizers “washed in” to the aquifer by agricultural irrigation begin to concentrate as less water remains to keep them in solution.  As we approach the “bottom” of the aquifer the cost of water purification increases as well.[6]  Eventually the rising costs of pumping and treatment will make water unaffordable. 


Q.        It sounds as if the increases projected in additional drilling costs and water purification costs are a more imminent problem than actually running out of water?  When will that impact my water bill?


A.        It already has - see the “Ground Water Management” charge on your recent bills[7].  No one knows exactly when our groundwater supply will be exhausted; but it doesn’t matter because water will become unaffordable long before that and perhaps sooner than we think.


Q.        Who is using all of this water?


A.        According to a study by the Borrego Water District[8], the breakdown is:



Q.        Why can’t we just import water from somewhere else?


A.        Importing water from “somewhere else” was studied thoroughly by the Borrego Water District and dismissed as economically prohibitive.[9]  There is no suitable source of supply and, even if there were, the costs of purchasing, piping and pumping water to our isolated valley would be astronomical.  No one could afford it.

Q.        Won’t rainwater replenish the aquifer?


A.        According to estimates by the U. S. Geological Survey, which monitors groundwater in the Valley, recharge of the aquifer appears to remain stable year to year regardless of fluctuations in precipitation.  Moreover, our overdraft is so serious that an especially wet year or even a period of years will not replenish the aquifer. As long as we take out more than goes in, we are living on borrowed time.
Q.        What are the possible solutions?


A.                 There is only one solution:  We stop using so much water.


Agriculture and golf courses together account for ninety per cent of total water use, while residences, local commerce, and the Park combined use less than the recharge rate.  While drought resistant landscaping and domestic water conservation are important, even drastic reductions of water use by residents and visitors would do little to reduce the overdraft.  The deficit can only be eliminated by reducing agriculture and redesigning golf courses  to use far less water.  Retrofit and redesign of golf courses and retirement of farm land will require a collective civic investment; but sustainable use is the only way to bring the aquifer to an equilibrium state and protect our water supply for the future.

Q.        What is The Save Our Aquifer Coalition?


A.                 The Save Our Aquifer Coalition (“SOAC”) is a voluntary association of residents, property owners, business people and visitors to Borrego Springs working locally, regionally and statewide to reduce the overdraft and bring demand and recharge into equilibrium through rational and sustainable water use. 


Q.        How do you propose to solve the problem?  What about the farmers?  They have been here for generations, haven’t they?


A.        Only a few farms have been in continuous production under the same owner since the early days of Borrego.  What water might be available short term for agriculture should rightly go to them.  SOAC supports purchase of water rights from high water use farmers, and is actively seeking funding to accomplish this. 


However, many large, corporate agribusinesses are simply taking advantage of  lax groundwater regulation in San Diego County.  Water elsewhere is $500 per acre foot, but in the Borrego Valley,  these businesses can pump water for less than $100 per acre foot.   As corporations, their goal is to minimize costs  and maximize profits; but in so doing they  push the true cost of the overdraft onto us – the rest of the citizens of Borrego.  It is the classic ”tragedy of the commons” and must be addressed before it destroys our community and the environment of the Valley.


Q.        What can I do about it?


A.        Join SOAC.  SOAC welcomes new members who share the goals of bringing about sustainable use of precious groundwater and preserving our unique Valley for future generations.  We’ll keep working and let you know when your calls, letters or public attendance at meetings and hearings can make a difference in this critical effort. 


To find out more about SOAC and groundwater in the Borrego Valley, lend your name in support of our goal, volunteer, send a donation ($25 is suggested) or obtain an application for membership contact us.


Save Our Aquifer Coalition          Email:  mailto:SOAC@CABLEUSA.COM

P.O. Box 1371

Borrego Springs, CA  92004


Top of the Document

[1]. Borrego Water District.  Ground Water Management Plan, September 25, 2002.  Page I.

[2] Murray Wunderly, San Diego County Hydrogeologist.  Oral report to the  San Diego County Board of Supervisors, July 12, 2003.  .

[3]  “Projected Life Of The Borrego Valley Aquifer.” Technical Appendix E, Borrego Water District Groundwater Management Study, Report of the Technical Committee, February 2, 2001

[4] “Milky Water,” Study prepared by Lin Burzell, Consulting Civil Engineer for the Borrego Water District, Summer 2003.

[5] 1 acre/ft. = 326,000 gallons or enough for two average households for one year or 1 acre covered to a depth of 1 foot.

[6] Borrego Water District.  Ground Water Management Plan, September 25, 2002.  Page I.

[7] See also: “A Change In The Format Of Your Water Bill,” Borrego Water District, Summer 2003

[8] Borrego Water District.  Ground Water Management Plan, September 25, 2002.  Page I.

[9] Borrego Water District.  Ground Water Management Plan, September 25, 2002.  Pages 51,52.

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