Digger - May 15, 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.
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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