Digger - October 6, 2018
Highlights of recent articles about or related to groundwater in the Borrego Valley of California and efforts to manage it - or not.
For previous years click here.
On 12 Sept. more than 100 Borregans traveled to San Diego to attend the San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting at which District 2 Supervisor Diane Jacob made a motion to vote on the County staff recommendation that no density increase be approved for Rudyville. Even with "Bullldozer" Bill Horn, the District 5 (Borrego's) Supervisor, predictably voting against accepting it, the motion passed 3-2 ending a 14 year battle between the developer and the community in favor of the community.
An article by Dave Garmon, President of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, on the Board of Supervisor's meeting at which Rudyville's request for upzoning was finally defeated (see above) after the decade-long efforts of the TCDC and others to achieve that end. Only one person spoke in favor of upzoning the project site - Chris Brown, one of the owners of the property and a former Land Use staffer for County Supervisor Horn - while for one and one-half hours "a stream of Borregans laid out their rationale for retaining the current zoning." In the end the Supervisors voted 3-2 to do so despite a last minute effort by Borrego's Supervisor Bill Horn to avoid defeat of the request by delaying the vote and referring the request back to County staff for further study.
A letter from Dave Garmon, President of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, a mainstay in the opposition to Rudyville, congratulating Borregans for their "unyielding efforts over more than a decade" to defeat the project "that ended when the San Diego County Board of Supervisors heard and ratified their long held consensus" opposing the project.
Announces another community meeting on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan and discussed the one that took place on Sept. 12 where Geof Poole, General Manager of the Borrego Water Distirct summarized the history and current Status of the Borrego Valley GSP.
BWD is getting a new production well to replace one located off Borrego Springs Road about one mile north of Christmas Circle that has reached the end of its usefull life. The new well will be built on the existing well site to minimize damage to the environment and ensure access to the existing potable water distribution system which will save time and money.
This very long (43 column inches) article is a turgid lump of buzzwords and bureaucratese, singularly uninformative, and exquisitely boring. The Borrego Village Association is apparently somehow affiliated with the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council which claims to have been created out of a "recognition of water constraints in the Borrego Valley" but, among many other things, the article does not even attempt to clarify these relationships. If a "Better Borrego" depends on this opaque slurry all is lost.
With no opposition for the three positions available on the BWD board the three candidates, Brecht, Dice, and Duncan win by default. No election. No comment.
Tries to address public concerns over the earmarked $35 million included in the $8.877 billion State water bond on the November ballot to purchase, fallow, and restore approximately 3,000 acres of agricultural land in the Borrego Valley, but misses the point: that farmers will be richly and unjustly rewarded for depleting Borrego's aquifer.
At the August Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting a consultant to the County provided an overview of how reductions in water use required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will impact the community using computer modeling based on the "Monte Carlo Simulation" or "probability simulation" to account for "the level of uncertainty of [Borrego's] future water supply" and help to mitigate the adverse effect of "a wrong conclusion leading to a bad decision at a critical time." New data can be added to the model as the GSP is implemented and the situation changes.
One letter. None about water or Rudyville.
Explains Proposition 218 or California's "Right to vote on taxes Act" which covers BWD and requires that all affected parties be notified of and a public hearing be held on any "property related fees or charges" before they are imposed. If a majority of those affected by such levies protest them, they cannot be imposed.
Baseline Pumping Allocations (BPAs) are "[t]he starting point from which all future reductions [in water use] will be made" and will determine each individual pumper's future access to water. BWD proposes to use a pumpers highest annual consumption between 2010 and 2015 (?) as a pumper's BPA.
The BWD board sent a letter to the County Board of Supervisors requesting that they consider Borrego's "water related issues" at the final public hearing on Rudyville and accept the County Department of Planning Services recommendation to reject the to upzone request for Rudyville.
An appeal for a large turnout at the Board of Supervisors hearing on Rudyville.
NOTE: On Sept. 12, 2018 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to deny Rudyville's request that the project site be upzoned. The vote was 3 to 2 with Borrego's Supervisor, "Bulldozer" Bill Horn, voting with the minority.
An update on the Borrego Water District's financial recovery after years of relying on "'cash-on-hand' which was paltry at best and frequently non-existent." Water and sewer rate increases "place the BWD rate structure in line with that of other communities in the region" and have made possible "long-term, debt-based financing" to support the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process if necessary. Thorny key issues such as metering policy, baseline pumping allocations, reduction period and schedule, pumping fees and penalties, etc. will have to be settled before the GSP must be submitted to the State in January 2020. (NOTE: Although BWD's stated goal is to avoid litigation over these contentious matters, given the progress that has been made thus far on them - essentially none - at this late date that will be a tall order.)
A plea for a large turn-out at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting on 12 Sept. when the final determination on Rudyville's request for increased zoning density will be made.
Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy has a new website, "Borrego Knows Best," that is a call to action against increased zoning for Rudyville. A three-minute video that is also available at the TCDC website and on their Facebook page. The goal of the Borrego Knows Best campaign is to encourage and make it easy for concerned citizens to express their views to the Board of Supervisors and sign a petition that will be delivered to them.
Another ode to Borrego. It appears that the Borrego Sun may have a new policy and will only publish anodyne missives.
Defines "hydrology" as "the study of how all the dynamics of our aquifer work together to provide the Borrego Valley Sub-Basin with water [and] the next factor that will influence future rates." California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act allows continued lowering of groundwater levels during GSP implementation which may take more than 20 years. As groundwater levels fall it is possible that BWD wells will need to be relocated. Supplies of good water may be difficult to find close to existing BWD pipes and for that and other reasons the cost of the new wells will definitely exceed the present cost of $1.5 million per well. Water quality may also decline with water levels and the necessity to treat water will also drive up future rates. Sporadic rainfall in the watershed caused by climate change poses additional risk factors. BWD will strive to find outside funding to meet these needs when possible.
Borrego Springs relies solely on groundwater to exist. It sits atop an aquifer that has been in overdraft for decades because the community has been sucking four times as much water out of the ground each year as is naturally replenished. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Under terms of the Act the Borrego Valley aquifer was declared to be in "critical overdraft" and Borrego must have a plan in place by January 2020 that guarantees water use is reduced by 70 percent not later than 2040. The only way that can be accomplished is by fallowing farmland.
Passage of Proposition 3, the California Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative, in November could help Borrego Springs solve its water woes as water quality deteriorates and the supply dries up. Prop. 3 is a statewide bond initiative that would issue $8.877 billion in general obligation bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects. The bonds would pay out about $8.4 billion in interest over their 40-year term for a total cost to the state of $17.3 billion. Should the proposition pass, $35 million would go to Borrego, with $29 million earmarked for purchasing and fallowing farmland in the Borrego Valley. But time is of the essence: after five years any money unspent reverts to the state.
Farms account for roughly 70 percent of all water drawn from the valley's aquifer and the only way to meet the state requirement is to fallow 3,000 of the 3,800 acres (80%) of farmland. On the other hand, as the aquifer level drops the water quality will become worse and the cost of pumping enough to irrigate crops prohibitive. No wonder then that Lyle Brecht, Vice-President of the BWD board, believes the buy-out "offers the agricultural community a very fine exit strategy." Indeed it does.
There will be three candidates for three positions on the Borrego Water District Board of Directors in November. Lyle Brecht, running for a third term as a member of the Board; Kathy Dice, former Superintendent of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; Dave Duncan, currently BWD Ratepayer Representative on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee.
"The final vote on Rudyville's request for increased zoning density on 170 acres of pristine desert habitat will take place... Sept. 12 at a hearing before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors." David Garmon, President of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) said "[t]his is the big one." According to Garmon, "the Board of Supervisors is not compelled to follow the recommendations of the planning commission" but "may vote any way they chose including upzoning the entire Rudyville parcel, which is why a large turnout for these meeting is so important." The TCDC will launch a campaign to provide the Supervisors with as many letters, petitions and phone calls about Rudyville as possible so they understand community sentiment on the project. More information is available at the TCDC website or 800.204.3656.
One letter. A bathetic panegyric to Borrego Springs. No letters about water or Rudyville.
The second of a four-part series on BWD water rates focusing on the recently approved bond issue and how it will "stabilize" rate increases necessary to fund repair and replacement of the District's aging infrastructure by spreading them over the 20 year term of the bond.
Enumerates the $6 million in known costs for developing and implementing the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan and sources of funding for same. While the piece is obviously at pains to point out that "[t]he District's ratepayers are picking up only 7% of the post-2015 GSP costs incurred to date," it glosses over the fact that ratepayers have contributed nearly 27% of the $6 million total costs to date. That is in sharp contrast with less than 1% contributed by pumpers who are surely responsible for at least 80% of the overdraft historically. This glaring inequity is further aggravated by the fact that BWD is counting on $35 million in the California Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative (Proposition 3) funds to pay farmers for fallowing land to obtain enough water to satisfy ratepayer demand once the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is implemented and the District appears to have no "Plan B" should their dodgy attempt to put one over on California tax payers fail at the ballot box in November. In light of that, the line-item for "Future Costs" is especially interesting - and scary. Both the "Cost" and "Funding Source" columns show "??".
Over the last nine months the Groundwater Sustainability Agency has held twelve Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meetings. At their July meeting the Groundwater Sustainability Agency Advisory Committee/Core Team received a presentation on a hydrological conceptual model (HCM) that can compute aquifer inflows and outflows and generate computer simulations of past and future water quality and quantity based on current groundwater levels, land use, stream flow, extractions, and septic system return flow data. HCM modeling predicts that extractions from the aquifer will total approximately 80 acre feet over the next five years "before we even begin to move away from current aquifer storage depletion and in a positive direction towards sustainability. [over] the following 15 years" before withdrawals are reduced by 74% to the aquifer's sustainable yield of 5,700 acre feet per year as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
The issue of water allocation for pumpers (agriculture and golf courses) under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act remains contentious. Baseline Pumping Allocations (BPAs) have been calculated for pumpers, but agricultural pumpers "have argued successfully for inclusion of 'return flow' from irrigation in order to increase their net BPA." The relative efficiency of flood irrigation is also being reassessed and the results may further boost the BPA of some agricultural pumpers. And so it goes.
The title of Patrick Sampson's, President of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, poorly crafted piece regarding the public's visceral reaction to the Chamber's singular endorsement of Rudyville almost nailed it. All that was left off was "And May the Devil Take the Hindmost." - more -
At its 18 July meeting the BWD board heard a presentation on the public outreach component of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan funded by a Proposition 1 grant. The purpose of the outreach effort is to help community members "underrepresented at BWD and [GSP] Advisory Group meetings to understand the technical aspects of the GSP and provide input." (Note: This definition of the target audience for outreach will necessarily comprise virtually 100% of the population of Borrego Springs inasmuch as almost no one but a very small group of usual suspects attends either the BWD board or GSP Advisory Group meetings. But never mind.)
It is not true, as rumor has it, that BWD ratepayers will be required to reduce water use by 75% to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act mandate requiring overall demand on the aquifer be reduced by that amount. Ratepayers have already reduced water consumption by 18% from their baseline use, and BWD hopes to acquire water from farmers to meet ratepayer demand. (N.B. Details about these anticipated water transfers are vague and extremely scarce).
Two of the issues facing the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency are the quantity and quality of groundwater in the Basin. Without significant pumping reductions the groundwater level will continue to drop by approximately three feet per year as it has over the last 54 years until it reaches a point where it requires filtering and treatment at significant cost. The actual cost of ensuring the quality of water served to BWD customers at that point cannot yet be calculated.
Two BWD Directors, Board President Beth Hart and Secretary/Treasurer Joe Tatusko have decided not to run for reelection to the board in November. Hart said: "BWD is vital to the success of the community" and encouraged "qualified candidates to consider serving." Tatusko declined to comment on his decision.
Four letters; one about water, two about Rudyville.
An open letter from the Borrego Sun to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Core Team and Borrego Water District asserts that "the Plan for bringing the critical overdraft of this basin [under control] needs some degree of acceptance by our community" and asks why its potential impact on BWD ratepayers, who collectively own $342 million worth of property in Borrego, has not been evaluated when "[w]ithout affordable rates, Borrego's property values will tank." The letter also criticizes the GSP for "proposing another 20 years of critical overdraft," before reaching equilibrium, calling it "imprudent and capricious," and points out that there is nothing in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that requires such a protracted implementation period for the GSP.
Two letters opposing the San Diego County Planning Commission's decision to ignore County staff recommendations and allow a density increase on part of the Rudyville project site. One letter, captioned "What is the Stench at the Chamber," takes Linda Haddock, Director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber's Board of Directors to task for providing the Planning Commission with a "fig leaf" for its decision to allow an increase in density on part of the Rudyville project site despite near universal opposition from "the citizens and institutions of Borrego Springs."
One letter unrelated to water.
A discussion of the oft asked question: why are BWD water rates so high? The District recently increased water rates by 6%, putting its rates in the middle of a seven member peer group of water districts. According to the article, part of the reason the rates are high is the ongoing costs of infrastructure maintenance, repair, and replacement. Another factor that will continue to put upward pressure on water rates is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirement that by 2020 "all pumpers, including BWD, will pay something for extracting groundwater, rather than nothing, as is the case today."
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting on 26 July will address:
The article also includes a reminder that the 2018 State water bond will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 3. If passed the measure will provide $35 million for implementation of Borrego's GSP.
On 22 June the San Diego County Planning Commission voted against the County staff recommendation to reject a zoning density increase for Rudyville. Instead the Planning Commission quickly and with little discussion unanimously approved the third option presented by staff that would allow 34 dwelling units on 34 acres in the northeast section of the 160 acre project site only, or 21% of the density increase requested by the developer.
21 June the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce rescinded its April 7, 2016 letter of opposition to Rudyville and "became the first community voice to officially support" the project ending universal opposition from every sector of the community for the past 12 years.
A copy of the Chamber of Commerce letter to the San Diego County Planning Commission arguing in favor of the zoning density increase for Rudyville.
Argues that the requested zoning density increase for Rudyville poses a serious threat to Borrego's water supply. Copy available at BWD's website.
"Business is Business": Saul Miller argues that farmers who have always been able to pump as much water as they want to without paying a cent in commodity costs and who have "profited significantly" while doing so "now feel entitled" to receive prices for their land that they might have expected before the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act drastically reduced the amount of water they can pump and force them to pay for what they do use. But as Miller point out: "that's not how business works." Nonetheless, Miller expresses the fear that those negotiating with the farmers are afraid of them and so "inclined to give the farmers more than they deserve."
"Where is the Mention of 'Water'?": A response to Linda Haddock's letter of support for Rudyville. Points out that Haddock "never uses the word 'water' in her long essay, though she has been a member of the Borrego Water Coalition for years and is very aware of the situation here."
"Clarification: I Voted NO": A heartfelt letter from Brad Tidwell, a member of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, emphatically dissociating himself from the Board's decision to support Rudyville's request for a zoning density increase and pointing out that a win for Rudy will make every Borregan a loser.
"No Rudyville, Save Our Sand Dune": Argues against Rudyville because it will destroy the only sand dune in San Diego County, "a treasure to be recognized and saved."
Two letters unrelated to water.
BWD has received preliminary approval for a State grant as a Severely Disadvantaged Community that includes $250K for outreach to members of the community who are not currently part of or are underrepresented in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process and to develop a computer model of the socioeconomic impacts of the GSP.
At its 19 June meeting the BWD board approved a letter to the Director of County Planning and Development Services supporting County planning staff's recommendation to deny Rudyville's request for increased zoning density on the project site due to concerns about water supply and water quality problems that will be caused by the project if built.
On 8 June the San Diego County Department of Planning and Development Services announced its intention to recommend that the County Planning Commission deny Rudyville's request to up-zone its project site from one house per ten acres to one house per one acre, a ten-fold increase in density, at the planning commission meeting on 22 June. Bill Wright (Roadrunner Club) is providing a free bus to transport fifty Borregans to and from the meeting in San Diego. The planning commission will vote on whether to accept the Planning Commission's recommendation and forward its decision to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors who will make the final decision on the request later in the summer.
Rudyville has had few if any supporters in Borrego, but in the interest of fair play the Borrego Sun published the views of two "respected community leaders" on the project: Jim Wilson, Honorary Mayor of Borrego Springs and Linda Haddock, Director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce. Wilson recommends denial of the requested zoning change because "there is no need for a 'big growth project' to. further deplete the aquifer," destroy the natural environment, and build houses that won't sell. He encourages residents and visitors alike to sign the petition opposing it. Linda Haddock advocates "return of the zoning Rudyville had. before it was down-zoned in 2011." She acknowledges that hers is not a popular opinion among the majority "Rudyville NIMBY and anti-growthers" in Borrego, but fears "for the economic sustainability of Borrego Springs. should the same fate befall [other] properties."
This letter has a confusing caption. It is actually an argument for, not against, up-zoning the Rudyville parcels. But never mind. It is a verbose version of Linda Haddock's views on Rudyville (summarized above) published as a letter to the editor. The longer version adds little or nothing to her argument but more words. Curiously, however, she makes much - too much - of her claim that she does not know and has never met Rudy Monica, the namesake of the project. Haddock's argument, even in its long form, boils down to this: Rudy, and any other wanna-be developer should be able to to do whatever they please with any and all property they have or can raise the money to buy irrespective of environmental destruction, including dewatering Borrego's sole-source aquifer, and overwhelmingly adverse public opinion. It based on the same extreme property rights theory that has led to the present water crisis in the Valley.
Two owners of a "50+ acre parcel on the Tubb Canyon bajada," near and up-slope from the Rudyville site, argue that Rudy Monica et. al. failed to conduct due diligence before purchasing the property and knew or should have known at the time that it that it would in all likelihood be subject to down-zoning by the County General Plan Update then already underway. They further allege that Rudyville's application is still under consideration only because of political influence exerted by one of the project's partners who is a former employee of County Supervisor Bill Horn. As have so many others, they also point out that the project, if completed, would further damage Borrego's severely overdrafted, sole-source aquifer and fly in the face of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin currently under development.
At the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting on 31 May members received a presentation on the process for allocating the Borrego Basin's safe yield among users. The Baseline Pumping Allocation (BPA) will be established using pumping volumes from 2010 through 2014 inclusive as verified by flow meter data when available or, absent such data, computed from aerial photos of irrigated land and crop-specific water use factors, a method that "has been found to correlate extremely well with actual metering data."
Focuses on a discussion of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (GDEs) at the May Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting. "GDEs are plants or animals that require groundwater," i.e. the natural environment, and would include Coyote Canyon, Palm Canyon, and the Borrego Sink Mesquite Bosque which appears to be "the only place [in the Borrego Basin] where groundwater may be supporting GDEs." Studies to determine "how much of the sustainable yield of the basin may need to be reserved for GDEs" under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act are continuing.
The County Planning Commission hearing on Rudyville is confirmed for 22 June 2018 as feared.
Another of Michael Sadler's trademark, nearly indecipherable articles with inscrutable graphics. This one is ostensibly about how the 5,700 acre/ft of groundwater per year that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will allow to be withdrawn from the Borrego Basin will be allocated among agricultural, recreational, and municipal users. It contains information that should be of interest to anyone who has not been following the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) process to date, but is presented in such a discursive, disjointed, random, and confusing fashion as to be incomprehensible to anyone who has not been following it closely. In a word, it's pretty much a waste of space.
Imparts far more critical information about the GSP process in far less space than Sadler's article.
None of the five letters published in this issue mentions Borrego's groundwater situation or efforts to resolve it.
On 15 May the BWD board approved a consultant's proposal for a preliminary environmental assessment and land fallowing analysis of the Viking Ranch property and a report on its restoration potential. Part of the property was purchased by BWD in 2013; the remainder, which includes a well, was retained by Lundvald LLC and was fallowed in 2014. The trees were chipped and mulched but measures to stabilize the soil and minimize wind-blown dust were not implemented. The project may serve as a model as more farm land is fallowed to comply with SGMA.
BWD has updated its Developer Policy to place all of the infrastructure costs associated with all new developments on the developer. Developers will also be "encouraged" to install water conserving systems such as Grey Water Recovery. Water conservation measures for agriculture and recreation are under consideration as part of the GSP process.
The State's $8.877 billion water bond initiative, The Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, is on the November ballot and contains an earmark of $35 million for costs of implementing the Borrego Basin's Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The marketing effort for the initiative will cost $4 million, of which Borregans are expected to pony-up $100,000 after the agricultural and recreational sectors already contributed $50,000 each for the signature drive to qualify the ballot initiative. (Editor's Note: Much, probably most, of the earmarked funds will go toward buying out farmers who are the primary cause of Borrego's water crisis and will be displaced by implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.)
BWD continues to update information on groundwater levels and quality in the Borrego Basin. As a point of reference for future changes in the groundwater level, the land surface elevation at Christmas Circle is 597 ft. above sea level and the water table is approximately 200 ft. below land surface or about 400 ft. above sea level. Groundwater levels in the Basin are currently measured by 36 monitoring wells throughout the Borrego Springs Sub-basin, 30 of which also monitor water quality. Groundwater levels are falling 2.6-3.0 ft/yr in the north (agricultural) end of the Valley, 1.2-1.9 ft/yr in the center of the valley where BWD gets its water, and 7.2 ft/yr over the period 2015-2017 inclusive at Rams Hill, The water level at a monitoring well in the Borrego Sink far from any pumping wells registered a drop of only six inches/yr. Another monitoring well, (MW-3) in the south end of the Valley near Rams Hill, shows groundwater levels recovering at a rate of 1.3 ft/yr over the ten years from 2004-2014 but this is likely an artifact of return flow from irrigation water pumped from wells in the central part of the valley and applied on Rams Hill's golf course, i.e. recharging the aquifer in the south valley by intra-basin water transfer.
The "vast majority" of wells in the north and central parts of the valley were well below the State's maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water. Concentrations in water from four of fifteen wells in the south end of the valley at or near Rams Hill exceeded the MCL for drinking water. Water from the other eleven wells had arsenic concentrations less than the MCL for drinking water. Historical and recent data on water levels and quality are "being combined into coherent points of reference for decision-making purposes."
"There is a 90% probability the County Planning Commission's hearing on Rudyville will be on Friday, June 22, 2018," but the date will not be confirmed until two weeks before the hearing. It will be crucial to have 20-30 community members at the hearing to impress upon the commission why Rudyville must be stopped. The Commission's recommendation will go to the County Board of Supervisors who will make a decision later in the summer.
Two letters protesting Rudyville and the scheduling of the County Planning Commission hearing on the project at a time when most Borrego Springs property owners are elsewhere and unable to attend and voice their opposition to it and political influence over the timing.
Protests the timing of the County Planning Commission meeting on Rudyville and the BWD board's failure to pass a Water Emergency Declaration. Calls for measures to reduce agricultural pumping during a water shortage emergency.
Four unrelated to water;
One supporting the $35 mil. earmark for Borrego Springs in the California Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018;
One by Saul Miller captioned "Emergency Averted?" commenting on the "unfortunate headline" on the previous edition of the Borrego Sun: "WATER SHORTAGE AVERTED" and calling it "inaccurate and not true." Miller points out that "[w]hat was averted was a DECLARATION of a water shortage by the (BWD) board" and suggest that such a declaration might have highlighted the problem of an overdrafted aquifer and "put a spotlight on the major cause of the over-drafted aquifer: agriculture. But it wasn't declared and the farmers keep pumping away."
Announces the May meeting of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee and summarizes the agenda which appears, like nearly all of Advisory Committee agendas, to consist almost entirely of "updates" and "discussions" presented or led by persons who are not members of the Advisory Committee with little or no time allocated to questions and concerns from committee members. Makes you wonder if the Committee name shouldn't be changed to the "Advisee Committee" doesn't it?
At a BWD board meeting on 25 April that was "widely viewed as a precursor event to the declaration of a 'water shortage emergency'" the board backed-off from making such a declaration after hearing public comments opposing it. Although the declaration was billed as "merely 'an expression of policy,' the fallout was viewed by some attendees as considerable." Specifically, opponents argued that restricting ratepayer's water use "would save a minuscule amount of water" and have a negative impact on Borrego's economy by depressing real estate prices. The publisher of the Borrego Sun asked if there was a legal means of requiring farmers, who use 75% of the water but pay nothing for it, to reduce their water use by the amount necessary to satisfy restrictions imposed pursuant to a Water Shortage Emergency Declaration, but there was no response from the board. Several attendees supported the the declaration because it would keep the issue of a water shortage in front of the public, but the board eventually voted unanimously not to declare a Water Shortage Emergency.
A mixer was held on 21 April at de Anza Country Club to introduce the new owners of and announce future plans for the Club. First on the agenda is remodeling the clubhouse and restaurant.
Compares the 2016-17 rainfall year when nine inches of rain fell in the Valley to that of 2017-18 which has seen only one inch of rain to date with fewer than 60 days remaining in the year. Points out that the effect of rainfall on the Valley floor is negligible with respect to aquifer recharge because virtually none of the water ever percolates down to the water table but is lost to evaporation or evapo-transpiration from vegetation. Almost all of the recharge comes from "mountain stream runoff, and most of that from Coyote Canyon." But rainfall and soil moisture in the mountains of the Valley's watershed has shown a "whopping shortfall compared to both the prior season and the average." According to Mark Jorgenson, former Superintendent of the Anza-Borrego State Park, '[i]n the last five years... Coyote Creek has been dry numerous times." He attributes these events to "not only the long-term drought impacts, but also the draw down of our aquifer."
This entire engrossing article concerns revisions to BWD's "Fats, Oils, and Grease Policy" (FOG) which governs collection, removal, and disposal of same by restaurants in Borrego. Yum!
Allows that "people must be getting very bored with [water issues] by now," avers that declaring a Water Shortage Emergency as the BWD board reportedly sought to do "would have been disastrous for our town," and opines that the board "came to a very sensible conclusion which appeased the crowded room." Cites "the medical situation... high electricity prices, [and] water costs being increased" as reasons for the "fact that people are leaving" the Valley, argues that these must be corrected forthwith while at the same time avoiding imposition of"draconian measures" on [BWD] ratepayers, and advocates "measures that could be imposed on the farmers who use 75% of the water and don't pay anything for it... if an emergency is declared."
BWD's General Manager Geoff Poole offers the most enlightening comments on the Water Shortage Emergency kerfuffle and explains that BWD directors "decided against moving ahead with a proposal to declare a Water Shortage Emergency... being proposed for various reasons, including a preemptive move to strengthen BWD's position with the County of San Diego and its future land use planning decisions and possible increased zoning/additional lots." The Board did, however, "approve the Ordinance creating the structure that would allow for an Emergency Shortage Declaration when conditions dictate" that would give the BWD General Manager "fairly wide latitude to insure compliance" with water conservation measures.
Three thank you letters. One of these obliquely acknowledges Borrego's water problem but gives it short shrift and essentially brushes it off as inconsequential. Otherwise: nada de agua.
1 objecting to the $10 parking fee at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center.
1 objecting to portable toilets stored along Palm Canyon Dr. at the entrance to town.
0 about Borrego's groundwater sustainability efforts.
The California Human Right to Water Law (AB 685) was enacted in 2012 but only recently came to the attention of BWD and the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency. The law protects the right to water for domestic use (cooking, drinking, and sanitation). The GSA is looking for ways to incorporate the law into baseline pumping allocations currently under development by exempting approximately 400 acre feet of water from water use reductions mandated by the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) even though the California Human Right to Water Law has never been tested in court so its effect is still uncertain.
Although analysis of the socio-economic impacts of implementing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan is not required by SGMA, the BWD board wants to ensure that such impacts are considered and applied for a grant to study them. The Borrego Springs Groundwater Sustainability Plan Community Meeting held on 5 March was intended as the first in a series of events to hear from residents about GSP related issues of importance to them.
GSP technical consultants are now close to recommending numbers for baseline pumping allocations, reduction period (time to sustainability), and basin-wide water use reductions.
The De Anza Country Club, which has been relying "on steadily increasing fees and assessments to stay solvent," has accepted an offer to purchase the majority of Club shares. The buyers will pay off all debt obligations and assume the Club's negative cash flow as well as responsibility for anticipated "additional capital investment costs."
A recap of the BWD Annual Town Hall Meeting on 28 March which focuses on remarks by "two lawyers with expertise in statewide water policy who "highly recommended... that [the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan] "consists (sic) of reasonable and defensible actions that will hold up in court." They explained that "virtually anyone not satisfied with GSP particulars can take their case to court" and because of the "variety and complexity" of issues involved legal disputes among the "disparate stakeholders" are to be expected. The"vast majority of previous disputes... have eventually been settled between the parties by 'stipulated agreement'" and "courts look to 'reasonable and defensible' actions articulated in those agreements to settle individual cases." Both attorneys emphasized that the GSP process under the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is "unique in its scope and as-yet untested merits" but encourages "public input and participation." It requires, however, that "input be tempered by reality."
Another summary of the BWD Town Hall Meeting. This one focuses on BWD director Lyle Brecht's remarks about "costs involved in dealing with issues of sustainability and their effect on future water and sewer rates." Brecht asserted that "communities that fail to cover the economic cost of their municipal water system" in order to keep rates low often suffer as much as a thirty percent decrease in property values and lower growth over all because rates will eventually have to increase dramatically to cover the elevated costs of deferred water system maintenance. For the past eight years BWD has been able to spend only forty per cent of the amount required to adequately maintain its water and sewer infrastructure. In addition, while currently no treatment is required for most of the water pumped by the District, as wells must go deeper water quality will deteriorate and the water may require prohibitively expensive treatment or necessitate building expensive new wells - or both. The District has increased the frequency of its water quality monitoring, but still may not have time "to make sound economic decisions in the event that water quality declines or a well fails.
1 objecting to portable toilets stored along Palm Canyon Dr. at the entrance to town.
1 calling for full and fair funding of California Schools.
1 tribute to the "people, institutions, professions, and avocations that make up" Borrego Springs.
1 about the Circle of Art Show/Sale.
1 about Borrego's groundwater sustainability efforts.
At the March meeting of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee several perennial "ideas and proposals" for achieving groundwater sustainability in the Borrego Basin were finally eliminated from consideration. They were: piping water in from outside the basin, upgrading the water treatment plant, and storm water capture. All were deemed impractical and economically infeasible. An evaluation currently under way will determine if piping water from one place to another within the basin (intrabasin treansfers) is "practical, environmentally sound and economically feasible." Proposals that remain under active consideration are: a water trading program allowing the transfer of baseline pumping allocations among users in the basin if anticipated problems of hoarding, speculation, price-fixing, and collusion can be addressed; modification of land use designations; fallowing land currently under cultivation; development of a groundwater quality mitigation program to eliminate sources of groundwater quality impairment.
With respect to groundwater quality there are two known problem areas in the basin: the North Management Area (agricultural area) where the groundwater contains elevated nitrate levels and the South Management Area (Rams Hill and vicinity) where there are elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater.
Another topic briefly discussed at the Advisory Committee meeting was how BWD's 2,100 ratepayers would be impacted by changes in water allocations among agricultural, recreational, and residential users under a GSP. That remains an important and complicated, but unanswered, question.
A report on the Borrego Springs Groundwater Sustainability Plan Community Meeting on 5 March (not 1 March as reported) that attracted "a record 122 Borregans." The article concentrates on trivial and superficial aspects of the meeting and largely ignores or misrepresents more substantial ones. It does report that there will be a "circulation draft" of the GSP "within a few months" and a revised draft "by the end of 2018." The article also summarizes "questions, comments and concerns" voiced by attendees, most of which were predictable and shopworn. One telling comment that should have grabbed the attention of the BWD directors present, but will likely be ignored, came from a homeowner whose water bill has increased from $9/mo. to $50/mo., a 500% increase even though he reduced his water use over the same period causing him to become concerned over property values declining because of reduced water availability and increasing water rates.
Covers much of the same information as the page 1 article above but more efficiently and adds that 15 members of the public addressed the meeting on recurring themes including the economic impacts of water use reductions, adequate allocation of water for domestic, recreational, and agricultural use, and how required reductions would be apportioned across the three sectors.
Discusses the impact of California AB-685 known as the Human Right to Water Act (HRW) that declares the use of water for domestic purposes to be "the highest use of water," affirms every person's right to adequate "safe, clean, affordable and accessible water," and stresses the importance of "affordable and accessible." BWD hopes to increase its Baseline Pumping Allocation by approximately 400 acre feet under HRW although the mechanism for doing so is far from clear.
A letter to the Editor supporting three themes that emerged from public comments at the Borrego Springs Groundwater Sustainability Plan Community Meeting on 5 March:
A letter to the Editor in which Dave Duncan, Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee tries to explain away his earlier assertion that BWD board members are not paid. They are and he fails.
At their March meeting the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group unanimously rejected Rudyville's request to increase the zoning density for the project site ten fold. A number of community members made comments opposing Rudyville and no one at the meeting spoke in favor of the project. A representative from San Diego County described the request's multiple inconsistencies with both the County's General Plan and the Borrego Springs Community Plan as reasons for recommending its rejection by the County Dept. of Planning and Development Services. The representative added, however, that the recommendation is "not binding on the County Supervisors who will have the final say on Rudyville" and emphasized the importance of a large turn-out at public hearings on project in San Diego later this year by those who oppose it.
Announces that March will begin and end with a series of meetings on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin and related topics and that public input is "now more important than ever," BWD will be seeking additional water supplies to meet the needs of ratepayers' and does not expect to have to reduce its water use by 70%.
A report on the February BWD Board meeting at which the board "revisited two draft ordinances related to water shortages and water shortage emergencies that will assist the community in addressing the current waters crisis and support BWD's efforts to secure bond funding for water and sewer projects."
A highly biased, factually inaccurate, sycophantic letter by Dave Duncan, the Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee. It complains about "many letters [to the editor of the Borrego Sun] regarding our water issue," most of which "bear the same handful of names and blast BWD for not doing enough to protect the community"and purports to offer another perspective on BWD and its board. Duncan recites the District's shameful recent fiscal history and lauds the current board's role in bringing it "out of darkness." In the process, he makes a number of unsubstantiated claims about what the current board has achieved, downplays their authority to have done anything more to fix the problem, and tries to minimize the extremely important role of adjudication in resolving similar situations in California, among other things. Small wonder that the board was so anxious to have Duncan as ratepayer representative.
The Borrego Water District and San Diego County received preliminary approval of a grant application for $1 million from the California Department of Water Resources to help offset the cost of preparing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin. (more)
Saul Miller finds it "remarkable" that "[e]verybody knows what the problem is in Borrego, and how to solve it." Farmers "are the major source of the problem" because they pump 70% of the water each year, but want "everyone to reduce their water use by the same amount, i.e. 70%, which "is nonsense" because "residents who are using approximately 10% of the water. are simply not in a position to reduce their use significantly. Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act "farmers would have until 2040 to comply with the 70% reduction." But that long delay puts the aquifer's water quality at risk and "[t]here is no reason they can't be forced to comply sooner." According to Miller "[t]he solution is simple. The major pumpers, especially the farmers, have to stop pumping or cut way back. They need to start soon."
The entire article deals with amendments to BWD's policy for Water and Sewer Infrastructure for New Developments.
More about BWD's $1 million grant from the Department of Water Resources which will cover "five critical areas of concern to Borregans":
San Diego County is committing its $500K from the grant to an environmental review of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will hear public comment on Rudyville. The last time it held a public hearing on the development in April 2016 not one of the 150 attendees spoke in favor of it, but the Sponsor Group was unable to vote because it lacked a quorum and the vote is not bunding on the County Board of Supervisors in any case. After the Sponsor Group votes and sends its formal recommendation to the County there will be two more public hearings on Rudyville before the County Supervisors vote to "determine the outcome of the Rudyville saga." The community of Borrego Springs has opposed Rudyville for a decade and it appears as if County staff are poised to deny the developer's request for increased density because of multiple inconsistencies with the County General Plan.
A letter to the editor alleging that, despite the many sound reasons to deny Rudyville's request for increased density, political shenanigans and back room deals may nonetheless secure its approval. Ya think?
An article about the Citizen's Advisory Committee (AC) which is working with Borrego Water District and the County of San Diego to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin that will balance withdrawals from the aquifer with recharge. The AC meets monthly to address ratepayer concerns and questions and pass them on to BWD and the County. The nine member AC has four members representing the Borrego Water Coalition, one representative each for BWD ratepayers, the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and California State Parks. Dave Duncan, the BWD ratepayer representative, "holds monthly meetings at the BWD office to gather input from ratepayers which he then passes on to the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (BWD and the County)."
Provides a "highly simplified" description of the process by which the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee addresses issues and concerns and formulates GSP policy recommendations "that speak to the overarching issue of aquifer sustainability." Still further simplified that process is:
A Letter to the Editor describing a bazaar situation in which the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group has called for the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan to grant the Borrego Water District a share of the aquifer's safe yield sufficient to serve its customers while the BWD board is passively resisting this reasonable request.
Defines and describes the "cone of depression" or "close neighbor" problem. The cone of depression is "the funnel shaped cone of earth above and around the wellhead not saturated with water" caused by pumping groundwater. If two wells are in close proximity and one is deeper than the other there is a possibility that the cone of depression of the deeper well will result in loss of production from the shallower of the two. (The article provides somewhat helpful graphics to illustrate this.) One solution to the problem is to shut down one of the competing well pumps to allow groundwater to re-saturate the cone of depression. The recovery of wells with overlapping cones of depression, however, may result in well measurements being misinterpreted or misrepresented - intentionally or otherwise - as indicating that the groundwater level of the basin overall is rising. It is not, and these two phenomena should not be confused.
This same article appeared in the 11 January 2018 issue of the Borrego Sun.
Reports that the county has published the final documents required before the "travesty called Rudyville" can come to a vote by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors that could occur as soon as July 2018. The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, which has opposed Rudyville since its inception, is planning a range of activities for the spring to voice opposition to the project. (See also Saul Miller's cartoon on page 27 that speaks volumes.)
Hydrologist John Peterson conducted a study of water quality at mountain water sources for Big Horn Sheep using water samples collected by sheep counters during the annual sheep count and determined that "the sheep are doing fine, but. we need annual data."
A Letter to the Editor signed by 19 concerned citizens urging the Borrego Water District Board of Directors to more vigorously defend the interests of municipal ratepayers, i.e. homeowners and businesses in Borrego Springs, by insisting that the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin provide BWD with at least its historical demand for groundwater.
Over the years many studies have tried to establish how much water was stored in the Borrego Basin, but few have looked at water quality. For the Borrego Water District, however, water quality is potentially a multi-million dollar problem because once potable groundwater supplies are exhausted the District will be forced to pay for prohibitively expensive water treatment to meet State standards for drinking water. BWD is already testing water from its production wells more often than the State requires, but still more tests are needed to understand groundwater quality and and developing trends.
(NOTE: These two articles should have been one so we are reviewing the two together for purposes of clarity.)
Borrego Country Club Estates (Rudyville) is a 169 acre development project located south of Christmas Circle on the west side of Borrego Springs Road that would create 153 additional home sites and and place additional demand on the community's already overdrafted groundwater system among a host of other negative impacts. The County of San Diego published the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for Rudyville, known to the County as DS-24, in December. Public hearings and a vote by the County Board of Supervisors expected "sometime in 2018" will determine whether or not a ten-fold increase in density from the current one dwelling unit per 10 acres to one dwelling unit per one acre requested by the developer will be allowed. The question at issue, simply put, is whether or not residents of Borrego will have to live with the many serious detrimental consequences of this superfluous development. The decision on the change in density will be strongly influenced by politics and public participation will be critical in determining the outcome.
Proposition One, approved by the California legislature in November 2017, provides funds for projects consistent with requirements of the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The County of San Diego submitted a Prop One grant application on behalf of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency for one million dollars divided equally between the County and BWD to fund projects selected by each agency. BWD's projects include a social/economic study of the community, an analysis of the impacts of water use reductions, "assessment of potential water supply decision-making issues," and a study of potential sites for a new BWD well. A decision on the grant application is expected in Spring 2018.
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