Digger - May 18, 2020
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.
Six letters. None about water.
BWD will replace three of its major reservoirs: the Twin Tanks at the bottom of Montezuma Valley Road, and reservoirs at Indian Head and Rams Hill. The projects have been included in the District's Capital Improvement Plan but delayed by efforts to obtain grant funding and site selection.
This is the second in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. There have been no meetings since April 16, so this report is based on email conversations with Mike Seley who represents Agricultural interests and Mark Jorgensen, who represents Borrego Springs Community interests on the WaterMaster Board.
Seley avers that 100% of farmers are working on water meter installation and making good progress. The number of installed meters, however, has not changed since the end of March, i. e. only seven of eleven farmers are in compliance. Seley attributes the delay to farmers upgrading their meters rather than just recalibrating existing older models and expects all farmers will have meters installed by end of May, two months after the deadline set by the stipulation document. In response to a question about farmers who may be thinking of selling their water credits and leaving the valley versus continuing to farm, Seley disclaimed knowledge but commented that he had "not seen a public program that sets a price for water that they can consider." He concluded the interview by stating that "Seley Ranches intends to remain."
Mark Jorgensen stated that he expected "strong advocacy for agriculture and recreational interests" on the WMB and respected their representatives. Based on the first two meetings of the WMB Jorgensen said he sensed mutual respect among the parties and a willingness to meet the goals of the judicial mandate, but expected "challenges to the legal demands that pumpers scale back their [water] consumption dramatically." He promised to "speak out strongly to assure the community retains sufficient water" for its needs. In response to a question about the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that is mentioned but not fleshed out in the stipulation document, Jorgensen acknowledged that the EWG 'gets a brush-over in the Stipulated Agreement, but hopefully we can give it a higher profile in implementation.' Jorgensen concluded by commenting on the seeming "sincere dedication" of all WMB members to making sustainability successful, but added: "We shall see as the plan progresses."
Three letters. None about water.
Three letters. None about water.
This appears to be the first in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk, who is Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and represented the Group on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee. The reports are intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. The WMB "is a small group of people who will be managing [the Borrego] basin under the sustainable groundwater use plan (Stipulated Judgment) for Borrego Springs. under the jurisdiction of the state superior court system." Due to the Covid-19 shutdown, however, it is uncertain when the judge, who is based in Orange County, will be actively involved and authorize the WMB. In the meanwhile the Board will function as an Interim Board and rely on administrative support from BWD and lawyers until an Executive Director and attorney are hired.
At a WMB meeting on 31 March a lawyer representing agriculture disclosed that four farmers had not yet met the deadline for installation of water meters to monitor groundwater extraction and asked for an extension of the deadline to which the board agreed.
Funding for the WMB is provided by Baseline Pumping Allocation (BPA) Fees collected from pumpers, but until the Court blesses the BPAs the fees can only be collected if pumpers voluntarily agree to pay them. BWD has agreed to pay its fees in advance to help the WMB get started and has appealed to other pumpers to do the same, but no other pumpers have agreed to do.
There is still only one public comment on the Department of Water Resources web page for the Borrego Valley Stipulated Judgment and the comment period was extended to May 15.
Nonetheless, Falk ends the piece with this sanguine statement: "The Watermaster Board aims to work collaboratively and with camaraderie for the benefit of all Borregans in keeping our water supply adequate and safe into the future. Public participation in these WM Board Meetings can help this goal happen in a way that works for all of us."
Outlines measures BWD is taking in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the usual and expected precautions, BWD, along with other water agencies, has sent a letter to the Federal Government urging financial assistance for such agencies to offset revenue loss during the pandemic resulting from some customers inability to pay their bills.
On March 31 the WaterMaster Board (WMB) held its first meeting online to maintain social distancing. It lasted more than three hours. "The discussions were amicable and informative, and the WMB managed to vote unanimously on several key issues." BWD General Manager Geoff Poole led the discussions and BWD's attorney addressed procedural questions. Two other attorneys representing the agricultural and recreation sectors were also present. WMB will eventually hire its own counsel. Only four of five authorized members of the WMB board were present. The County of San Diego has not yet decided to participate and was not represented, but efforts to persuade the County to decide are ongoing.
The first item on the agenda was: What issues require a super majority to formally adopt a decision. Appointing WMB staff members is one of the latter. Next the board addressed how to formally ratify their first work product: the completed Department of Water Resources (DWR) Annual Report prepared by BWD consultant Dudek, Inc. which detailed the Borrego Sub-basin's past and current groundwater situation and provided compliance guidelines for metering and monitoring. Agricultural Representative Seley found a discrepancy in how some of the numbers were presented in the report and adjustments were approved unanimously as was a minor revision to approval of well pump meters.
"The Report itself is remarkable in both scope and detail, presenting data and analysis of both what led up to our 'severely overdrafted aquifer' and what to do about it over the next 20 years." One graphic in the Report shows groundwater extraction in the sub-basin by economic sector (Agriculture, Recreation, and Municipal). "It's pretty clear who's using most of the water." Another graphic shows that groundwater elevations at the same monitoring wells over five years (2015 - 2019) fell by 6.74 feet. Taken together these data demonstrate that management of the aquifer by "technical means" (metering and monitoring) is critical to understanding the groundwater situation and how best to allocate water among the three economic sectors. In that regard, Seley reported that 7 of 11 major pumpers have already installed meters and the remaining four "are well on their way to compliance."
The WaterMaster Board of Directors approved the search for legal counsel by unanimous vote. The chosen counsel will be responsible for a wide range of duties to ensure compliance with regulations laid out in a complex web of documents governing policies, programs, and actions (including enforcement) covering over 90% of the major pumpers of Borrego Valley."
Three letters. None about water.
Among many items considered at the WMB's March 31 meeting was the appointment of an Executive Director, Legal Counsel, and Technical Consultant for Borrego Basin. Counsels for recreation and agriculture explained that some boards retain a single individual as Executive Director/Technical Consultant, typically an engineer who also handles administrative work. The board decided to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) asking those responding to describe the ideal staffing solution. McGlothlin, attorney for recreation, provided a draft RFP for selection of a legal counsel that was unanimously approved after minor amendments.
The BWD board meeting for March was conducted online. The District will suspend cutoffs and late fees for those experiencing financial hardship until June 1. All discussions and decisions relating to rate increases will be delayed until fall.
One letter. None about water.
The meeting on March 31 was facilitated by BWD's General Manager and Legal Counsel since there is as yet no Water Master or Legal Counsel for the Water Master Agency. Once selected, the Watermaster Executive Director and Legal Counsel will run the Organization and report directly to the Watermaster Board. There was discussion of forming a Technical Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the staff and board. Manufacturers of flow meters that can be used to comply with the requirement that all non-de-minimus production wells were identified.
The first Interim Watermaster Board meeting was held via the Internet on March 31. Because of equipment problems or operator error some could only watch and listen. "There will be a learning curve." The meeting lasted a mere 40 minutes not including the closed session. See also "BWD Suspends Water Cutoffs, Late Payments" above.
Three letters. None about water.
BWD staff is working on a draft Risk Management Policy and Procedures to include air quiality, flood control, and groundwater sampling and water quality monitoring. The groundwater elevations and water quality monitoring program is being increased to semi-annual sampling for BWD wells, and may include private wells with owners' permission.
At the Community Sponsor Group meetilng on March 5th "There was some alarm at the proposal to transport what amounts to 350k gallons of wastewater/effluent per day to the landfill. More info should be provided later."
The annual BWD Town Hall Meeting will be on 17 March at 5:30 p.m. in the Library. The draft agenda includes: 2019 operational accomplishments and capital improvement projects, District finances, grant funding efforts, Proposition 218 rate setting process, and a Stipulated Judgment update.
The first meeting of the Borrego Springs Basin WaterMaster Board, which has responsibility for implementing the recently approved Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment that was signed by 92.4% of basin pumpers, is tentatively scheduled for 31 March and is the first step in getting the Board up and running. The Board comprises representatives of Municipal, Agricultural, and Recreational (golf) pumpers, plus a Community Representative and the County of San Diego should they decide to participate. The Board is expected to put hiring an Executive Director, Attorney and Support Staff near the top of it's to-do list.
In a public forum the BWD board unanimously appointed Mark Jorgensen Community Representative to the Borrego Basin Water Master Board and Martha Deichler as alternate. Jorgensen said he thought the "selection process ended up being very fair, and it reflected the will of the people in the community." The Sun article opined that "Borrego is indeed fortunate to have the right man at the right time for the job of representing an entire community."
One letter, none about water
At the BWD board meeting on 11 February, BWD's General Manager delivered good news regarding the District's investments in solar energy systems that have resulted in approximately $185,000 saved since 2016.
BWD completed all of the required filings for the Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment prior to the 31 January 2020 deadline. More than 92% of pumpers signed the documents. "Pumping reductions will be front end loaded to ensure 50% of the required. reductions will occur within the next 10 years" and flow meters will be required for all large pumpers in March 2020. Borrego Springs is the only "Critically Overdrafted" Basin in California using the Water Master Board framework.[Editorial comment:It remains a puzzle how reducing water use by half during the first half of the implementation period should count as "front loading," but that is the claim.]
Three letters, none about water
(DISCLAIMER: This is a badly written and apparently unedited article much of which, as a result, makes little or no sense. Little wonder there is no byline. For what it's worth, here is a summary.)
Highlights of the BWD board meeting on 28 January.
- The high school is paying $10K/mo. for irrigation but the cost will soon be reduced by switching to solar power for the well pumps. (No mention of reducing the amount of irrigation water used each month however.)
- "Next on the agenda was to rewrite a description of the duties and responsibilities of the BWD's rep to the Water Master Board and that of the Community Member..." (Not clear from the article whether they actually did that or not.)
- Former San Diego County of San Diego Hydrologist, John Peterson gave a presentation on how to acquire the best data on water quality and aquifer level from the 31 existing monitoring wells: "Get the cheap data first. and fill the gaps in the system." Peterson was referring to data expected to be supplied by pumpers on a swath of land from Coyote Creek to the Borrego Sink that currently has few if any monitoring wells.
- Rick Alexander is seeking grants "for various projects" prominent among which is dealing with 108 'inactive' and probably abandoned wells in the Valley identified by BWD that are "not properly destroyed and capped" and pose "a potential danger to public health." Property owners are reluctant to spend the large sums of money required to properly destroy/cap an inactive well, so there is considerable financial risk to BWD and the County from potential law suits over contamination of groundwater from inactive or abandoned wells. BWD has identified the inactive/abandoned wells and both BWD and the County may have to bear some of the costs of destroying and capping them.
- A paragraph that makes absolutely no sense. Remarkable even for this feeble effort.
- BWD pumped 1,500 acre feet of water in 2019. That was a reduction from the previous year attributed to conservation efforts, but resulted in a loss of revenue to the District from water sales.
- Eighty-seven percent of pumpers have now joined the Stipulated Agreement. That is close to the goal of ninety percent set by BWD.
The proposed Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment for the Borrego Springs sub Basin were filed with the California Department of Water Resources and the Superior Court of San Diego County on 31 January 2020. Over 92% of Basin pumpers signed the documents. The rest of the short article briefly recaps the history of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan/Groundwater Management Plan development leading to a Stipulated Agreement among pumpers.
A piece by John Peterson, former San Diego County Hydrologist, addressing the fact that California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act fails to address "the thorny issue of California water rights," thereby casting 'a cloud of uncertainty over future groundwater rights and supplies.' In parallel with the public process of developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (SGMA) there was a separate confidential process involving discussions among the major groundwater extractors in the basin (agriculture and recreation (golf)) led by BWD. The latter led to an agreement among the parties to decrease groundwater extractions by 75%. "This agreement is enforceable and... addresses the legal enforcement of water rights within the basin." It is Peterson's opinion that a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, such as is called for by SGMA, "would not have solved our problem due to the limitations of determining water allocation and water rights" whereas the Stipuilated Agreement arrived at via the confidential process will result in a Stipulated Judgment that is enforceable and "can finally make a difference in solving our groundwater overdraft."
John Peterson, former San Diego County Hydrologist, and Jay Jones, of Environmental Navigation Services, Inc. presented an update on water quality and groundwater elevation monitoring at the BWD board meeting on January 28. The frequency of sampling has been increased and they continue to look for new wells to augment the 31 presently monitored. Peterson argued that more information is needed especially about existing contaminants and "Jones pointed out that the Groundwater Management Plan identifies data gaps, such as how water quality changes with depth." BWD's General Manager "explained that the investigation team is hoping to obtain permission from well owners in the unrepresented areas to take samples from their production wells" rather than drilling new monitoring wells, but monitoring "will definitely continue." In summary, Peterson said: "The question is not when we will run out of water, but when we will run out of cheap water."
Three letters, none about water
Borrego Water District General Manager Geoff Poole and attorney Steve Anderson summarized the comments and responses to the Stipulated Agreement (Stip), many of which were related to "the way in which the Water Master Board (WMB) would be formed and utilized during the 20 year implementation period," before the board gave unanimous approval to execute the settlement agreement. "This is the first time in 45 years we have the ability to take action," Anderson said. "About 75% of all pumpers are covered by the Stip, but [Anderson] said he is trying for 90% or above." The names of parties to the Stip will be made public along with those of the 'stragglers' who did not agree to participate in the settlement in hopes of encouraging the latter to participate. There is, however, little or no likelihood of further changes to the Stip to accommodate them. "One issue settled by the Stip was 'parties in disagreement' on the WMB. The Community Representative can now appeal any decision made and use the legal resources provided to the WMB to do so."
At its 14 January meeting the BWD board unanimously elected Director Dave Duncan as BWD representative on the Water Master Board and Director Kathy Dice as alternate. A nominating committee comprising GSP Advisory Committee members representing BWD, the State Park, the Stewardship Council, and the School District selected four candidates: Martha Deichler, Rebecca Falk, Bri Fordem and Mark Jorgensen. Originally the selection was to be made by WMB members representing BWD, agriculture, and recreation but, based on comments received on the Stipulated Judgement, the procedure was changed so that the appointment would be made by the BWD board.
An agreement reached among parties negotiating the Stipulated Agreement designated the BWD board as the body that will select the Community Member of the Water Master Board (WMB) based on background, qualifications, and interviews with candidates at a public hearing. The appointment of a community member to the WMB was mentioned frequently in the public comments received on the draft Stipulated Agreement.
The last paragraph of the editorial concerns water: "It seems that the Water Management Agreement (now GMP), is in its final form. Let's hope that after all the effort put into its creation it succeeds in serving its purpose. Time will tell."(Editorial comment: Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the product of five years work.)
Two letters, one about water
"Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant", p. 7
Rebecca Falk, Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, represented the Group on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee. In an op-ed she warns against surrendering Borrego Springs' future "to a handful of people or corporations who have been overpumping our water," but it appears that ship has long-since sailed. (For the full text of this letter click here.)
Public comments on the Stipulated Judgment "included many... on the selection of the Community Member who will sit on the Water Master Board" to represent the community at large on various water related issues. The BWD board will make the selection in a public meeting after interviewing candidates and providing an opportunity for the public to ask questions of them. The article also addresses, without explicitly acknowledging or resolving, another serious concern that has been raised about the proposed Stipulated Judgment, i.e. that the Community Member of the Water Master Board (WMB) will be the only member of the WMB without funds to hire legal or other experts to advise and assist them in disputing a decision of the WMB. It simply asserts without preamble or elaboration that "The Stipulated Agreement was structured to include the right for the Community Member to consult with the Board's legal council and register an appeal if warranted."
During the public comment period for the Stipulated Agreement thirteen individuals or entities submitted comments. Many of those doing so addressed multiple aspects of the Stipulated Agreement. The Borrego Sun unpacked the thirty-seven specific comments and grouped them into six categories:
Eight of the seventeen specific comments in the Governence category addressed "selection processselection of the WMB Community Member and the Stipulated Judgment was revised accordingly to take into account the expressed concerns: "The BWD Board will make the selection of the WMB Community [Member?] after local organizations provide a slate of candidates and a public forum is held by the BWD."
A second comment in the Governance category asking for assurance that a minority of members could not make WM Board decisions resulted in revision of the Stipulated Judgment "to require at least three affirmative votes on all matters not requiring a super-majority."
A comment in the Miscellaneous category asking for exemption of water used for firefighting and other natural disasters [from regulation by the Stipulated Judgment?] prompted a revision of the Stipulated Judgment.
An incomprehensible comment in the Water Rights/Legal Process category from the Borrego Springs Unified School District concerning "[t]he amount of water production requested to be non-reducible," also resulted in a revision of the Stipulated Judgment.
The remaining thirty-three were simply "acknowledged," "noted," or explained away including one suggesting that the WMB Community Member be provided with "a budget... and/or support equivalent to the staff and support other members [of the WMB] will have" mentioned in two comment letters. That comment did not result in revision of the Stipulated Judgment because "we [BWD board members] are not aware of any judgments that compel Watermaster funds to be collected and directed to support any particular sector. Each party is responsible for their own costs," i.e. you can't make us do it. That is the equivalent of deliberatly sending the Community Member into a hatchet fight without a hatchet.
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