Digger - January 11, 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.
This article by Michael Sadler Identifies Borrego's "aquifer situation" as a major issue that must be addressed in 2018; points out that Borrego has only two years before the deadline (1 January 2020) for submission of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan that is acceptable to the State and warns against procrastinating; identifies "community consensus" as "the most equitable way to allocate the limited amount of water available [from the aquifer's safe yield]... and how best to monitor for compliance" with restricted allocations and cautions that "public input early enough... for sound decision making is critical."
A report on the January BWD board meeting. Although described as "a busy morning at the BWD," the meeting was mostly taken up with housekeeping matters. One item that might have implications for water conservation seeks to prevent developers from hoarding water and water credits by applying for permits but not developing the property in a timely manner is said to be under review, but the description of it is too sketchy and confusing to be sure. Suggests that BWD's Proposition 1 grant application may be approved and that BWD may be on track to have a water bond initiative on the Fall mid-term election ballot.
Presents a list of the top five "successes by the [Water] District in 2017," only one of which concerns groundwater sustainability, i.e. the "Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) [is] underway." Everything else, like the January meeting, concerned housekeeping which, as the article notes, is "critical to a smooth-running operation." But business as usual will not get the Basin to sustainability in time to meet the State's deadline or save the aquifer from destruction - whichever comes first. To do that the BWD board will have to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, a capability that seems to have eluded them thus far.
While not strictly water related, this article suggest possible long-term relief for the aquifer. It concerns the uncertain future of de Anza Country Club as a going concern and points to the need to focus on "immediate financial priorities for sustaining" and "pursuing alternative business development ideas regarding the long term survival of the club." Should such endeavors prove unsuccessful, as they apparently have to date, that might eliminate one of Borrego's five (count 'em) redundant, water intensive golf courses.
The decision making process, called "voting," is "based on a consensus level process" wherein each representative on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee (AC) assigns a number from one to six to a Policy Recommendation or option under consideration to indicate his/her "Comfort Level" (CL) with it (see box at left). For a Policy Recommendation to be adopted by the AC and recommended to the Core Team (CT) no AC member can indicate a CL greater than four. If the AC cannot reach consensus on an issue, i.e. one or more members of the AC assigns it a five or six, it goes to the Core Team without recommendation. The CT can still reject it, however, and even if the CT approves it a Policy Recommendation can be rejected by the BWD Board and the County Board of Supervisors who hold ultimate decision making authority over the GSP.
After dithering since September over the question of whether metering of all non-di minimus wells in the Borrego Sub-Basin should be required, the AC for the Borrego Basin GSP finally approved a proposal to do so at the end of November. Seven of nine members indicated that they "agreed wholeheartedly" while the two agricultural representatives indicated they could accept it. When it came time to vote on two options for monitoring the metered wells, however, the consensus broke down. Option one would have the GSA inspect, monitor, and read the meters on a monthly basis; option two would vest that responsibility with the property owner or a third party. Both failed. It is instructive to note that option one failed because of predictable opposition from pumpers while option two was rightly opposed by representatives from the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and Anza Borrego Desert State Park - but not the putative representative of BWD ratepayers.
Prominently displayed in a box immediately below the masthead on page one is a brief notice that on 27 November the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee "made its first policy recommendation... to mandate metering of all wells in the Borrego sub-basin that extracts (sic) more than two acre feet of water per year. It was a historic vote..." Indeed it was, but for something that should have been done at least 20 years earlier. Still, it took the Advisory Committee six months of dithering before finally voting on something that was a no brainer. Bragging about it as an "historic vote" is a classic case of making a virtue of necessity.
This Groundwater Update(?) breathlessly proclaims that two policy recommendations from the GSP Advisory Committee are possible at their meeting on 27 November . One is mandatory well metering (see above) and another "about how water will be allocated to... Agriculture, Golf Courses, and Municipal" use. The Update(?) points out that recommendations issuing from the Advisory Committee require consensus among all nine Advisory Committee members and "[i]t is a challenge to get nine leaders of nine different constituencies to agree 100% on anything." That requirement well may be a fatal flaw in the decision making model adopted for the GSP process which, three years after enactment of the SGMA and only two years before the deadline for completing the Borrego Basin GSP, just now produced its first recommendation. Not an auspicious beginning.
Once again no substantive progress toward sustainability to report but no shortage of optimistic promises of things to come. This Update merely announces the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting on 27 November. The Advisory Committee is a nine member panel representing a wide array of interested parties to provide recommendations to the BWD Core Team on key issues in the GSP. The AC will hear comments on metering all non-de minimus wells in the valley as required by SGMA and possibly the question to a vote. Establishing a benchmark or starting point for reductions in water use is also up for discussion and Advisory Committee members will make recommendations based on comments from their Constituent Groups and may vote on the matter. Other items for consideration are criteria to determine sustainability of the basin (Sustainability Indicators) and the amount of time needed to achieve sustainability (Reduction Period).
For the full-text of this article click here.
This is a fairly long - and pretty decent - article by Michael Sadler the salient points from which follow.
Interested parties are "starting to dig in and stake out their positions" for what is anticipated to be a twenty year struggle to allocate the safe yield of the Borrego Valley aquifer and comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act's (SGMA) mandate of a seventy per cent reduction of pumping from the Borrego Basin. Failure to comply with SGMA will result in a state takeover of the Basin and "nobody wants that." Although farmers oppose metering and monitoring of their water use, such data is required for intelligent groundwater management in the critically overdrafted Borrego Basin and there is little doubt that farmers will be forced to meter, monitor, and pay for their water use. The article suggests buying farmers out as a way of avoiding "overt hostilities," but admits that is a "tricky" issue politically. The process of implementing SGMA will be a "long and undoubtedly painful" one, but it is "critical that as many residents as possible understand at least some of the complexities involved and engage in the process... as issues are debated in public hearings." Those who do not "have little standing to complain about any of the results."
This has the appearance of what heretofore was published as the "Groundwater Sustainability Update" but usually failed to live up to the billing - as this piece would if it had retained the title. It is simply an agenda for the 28 October meeting of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee that is said to be "filled with a series of key issues" among which are:
At their 28 September meeting the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Advisory Committee discussed two "fundamental Recommendations for the Advisory:" mandatory metering of wells in the Basin and "determining a 'baseline' time period that becomes the starting point from which all future reductions in [in groundwater use] will be based." Members of the Advisory Committee will discuss these issues with their "Constituent Groups" and report to the AC at their October meeting.
A number of letters were submitted by members of the AC and the general public "on a wide array of issues" and recorded in the AC's agenda for reference. "The AC found the letters very helpful because input and consideration IS (sic) required by SGMA." In other words: The letters have been filed and will allow the AC to check the public participation box. Thank you very much.
Presents "highlights" of the BWD board meeting on 27 September.
BWD has developed a list of potential projects for funding under Proposition 1 will and will submit a grant request. Susan Lawrence, Stewardship Council Representative to the AC submitted a letter to the board asking that public participation in the scoping committee for the Proposition 1 scoping proposal be expanded.
NOTE: This article is especially poorly written, confusing, opaque, and uninformative even for Michael Sadler. It assumes an understanding of BWD's machinations that virtually no one in Borrego Springs, including Sadler, probably has. While there is a desperate need for public information about the District's wheelings and dealings, this sort of listicle is less than helpful. Folks in Borrego deserve better.
Once again no substantive progress toward sustainability to report but no shortage of promises of things to come. The Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee took August off - and nobody noticed. We are promised, however, that they will convene on 28 September "with a full plate of issues." One item on the plate is a proposal for mandatory metering of all wells in the valley producing more than 2 acre feet of water per year (non-de minimous wells). The Advisory Committee will decide whether to recommend mandatory metering of all wells in the valley and who should do the monitoring. Another issue to be discussed at the September meeting is the definition of the "baseline period" data from which will be used to determine the average annual water use and calculate reductions necessary to achieve sustainability. Options under consideration include a 5 or 10 year average ending in 2014. These two issues are not independent.
This article provides a brief description of the groundwater situation in Borrego Springs, which is pretty much summed-up in the title, and outlines possible remedies for it.
Residents of Borrego Springs are reluctantly coming to grips with a problem that they have long known about but been slow to solve even though it threatens the very existence of their community. Every ounce of water used by residents, golf courses and farmers must be pumped from the town's sole-source aquifer and each year about three and one-half times as much water is pumped out as is replenished. If that continues, the cost of pumping will become prohibitive as water levels fall and water quality will decline to a point where it requires expensive treatment as well.
In 2014 the state declared an emergency because the Borrego Valley aquifer was in "critical overdraft" and dictated that by January 2020 a plan must be in place that will guarantee water use is reduced by 70 percent not later than 2040 so that inflow and outflow of water are equalized and the aquifer level at least remains constant. Failing that the state will intervene and remove the aquifer from local control.
The nine-member Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Board comprising representatives of agriculture; golf courses, and residential users, i.e. customers of the water district which supplies water to a majority of the residents and a small number of people with their own domestic wells. The best represented user group on the board is the farmers and farming is the biggest challenge to sustainability.
The farmers are viewed by some in the community as the culprits: people who have exploited water from Borrego's sole-source aquifer for years without concern for the future. For them the idea of having any kind of government oversight or intrusion is not palatable. In the coming year, decisions will be made about how to enforce water conservation. Those with their own wells, including farmers, have never had to pay a commodity price for the water they produce; they pay only for the electricity it takes to pump it. That must change. Meters will likely be placed on all 128 private pumps in the basin to monitor use and to charge a fee for every acre-foot of water used or set fines for those who exceed limits on pumping set by the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Once it's known exactly how much water is being withdrawn the overdraft situation may be even worse than feared. If so, the 20-year timeline toward sustainability might have to be accelerated.
In any case, everyone agrees that much of the farming in the valley will have to end and the plan will call for fallowing farmland. How, if, or by whom that will be paid for is unknown.
This Groundwater Sustainability Update is a two-fur, perhaps to make-up for the lack of an update in the last issue of the Borrego Sun. It doesn't.
The first quarter-page panel simply announces the coming replacement of an "aging" water storage tank. It is a stretch to interpret such necessary, routine, periodic infrastructure maintenance as a significant gain in achieving groundwater sustainability, but not the first time BWD has attempted to do so to fill space.
BWD and the County jointly sent a letter to well owners in the Borrego Basin informing them that implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will require installation of flow meters on all non-domestic wells and all domestic wells producing more than 650 thousand gallons (2 acre feet) of water per year. Well owners who need new meters or inspection or upgrade of existing meters may be eligible for a full or partial rebate to cover the cost.
Nothing. That is what this issue of the Borrego Sun contains about the single most important matter facing the community: groundwater sustainability. For the first time since its inception even the bi-weekly "Groundwater Sustainability Update" produced by the Borrego Water District and the Borrego Sun failed to appear as promised. Many "Updates" have consisted of nothing but fluff and filler obviously concocted in a vain attempt to disguise the fact that there was no progress toward sustainability, but never tacit confession that there was none. It might, of course, be viewed as a timid admission that there is a problem and thus the first step in a solution. One suffers from hope.
A response to Edward Grangetto's incoherent letter to the editor of the Borrego Sun.
Members of the Borrego Water Coalition and AAWARE have pledged funds toward signature gathering costs to place a statewide water bond initiative on the November 2018 ballot passage of which could generate $35 million for groundwater sustainability in the Borrego Basin. The total commitment from the Borrego Basin when combined with expenses already incurred by BWD is said to be more than $100K. Those pledging contributions so far include: Borrego Springs Resort, De Anza CC, Jack McGrory, Rams Hill, Roadrunner Club, and AAWARE. The amount of these pledges was not disclosed.
NOTE: This Update is especially poorly written, confusing, and misleading starting with the title that seems to suggest BWC and AAWARE alone are contributing $100K toward the petition drive. The text of the article then back-tracks and tries to explain that their contribution will only be the difference between funds already spent by BWD and $100K - which may be less than zero. Without knowing the nature and amount of BWD's previous expenditures, therefore, it is impossible to know how significant contributions from BWD and AAWARE, if any, will be.
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee is trying to determine how much water can sustainability be withdrawn from the aquifer in future years. According to BWD's groundwater consultant 'documented metered groundwater extraction is the preferred data source' for establishing a sustainable withdrawal rate, so critical pumping data is needed immediately to make informed decisions about future usage. The State, however, allows farmers to choose to provide either flowmeter data (the preferred data source) or generic estimates of water use based on consumptive use by crop type. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act allows mandatory metering of all well's but not before 2020 and only after a local Groundwater Sustainability Plan is approved, so the local Groundwater Sustainability Agency is asking high-volume pumpers in the Basin whose wells are metered but do not report the data to BWD or the County to voluntarily submit pumping data. It is still an open question how many, if any, will cooperate.
The California Water Resources Board has allocated $86.3 million for local groundwater sustainability projects in two categories and BWD qualifies for both. Borrego is listed as a Severely Disadvantaged Community (Category 1) and is a Critically Overdrafted Basin (Category 2). A Category 1 grant could provide up to $1 million to finance well metering, testing and possibly monitoring, but eligibility requires that all or nearly all wells in the basin be metered. Many wells in the Borrego Basin, however, are not metered and many of the existing meters are in need of replacement or repair. Category 1 grants can also fund studies of socio-economic impacts of reducing water use in the Basin to a sustainable level. The article contains no further information about Category 2 funds. The GSP Advisory Committee has a self-imposed deadline of 1 Sept. 2017 for submission of grant proposals.
A perplexing rant by Edward Grangetto responding to a letter to the editor from John and Mary Delany that appeared in the last issue of the Borrego Sun.
A statement by Dave Duncan who was appointed by the BWD board to represent ratepayers on the Advisory Committee (AC) for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). Duncan points out that Borrego is totally dependent on its overdrafted, sole-source aquifer for water and under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act must eliminate the overdraft which will have monumental consequences for the community and "certainly put boundaries around future growth."
Announces "the consensus of the ratepayer contingent of the Advisory Committee (AC) for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) that all those who extract more than two acre feet of water a year from our aquifer must be metered." Historically most private wells in the Borrego Basin have not been metered due to stubborn resistance from pumpers and no reliable data on their production exist. The Advisory Committee is now considering voluntary metering of high volume wells serving golf courses and agriculture to address this deficiency. If that approach "falls short." i.e. some pumpers don't volunteer, the only way to obtain the necessary data will be to invoke a provision of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that allows Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to impose mandatory metering on non-de mimimus pumpers. The chance of voluntary metering succeeding, however, is slim to none and any attempt to institute mandatory metering will likely also come a cropper in the pumper dominated Advisory Committee.
This update reports on the June Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting at which the District's consulting engineers made a presentation on development of Borrego's GSP including "the issue of voluntary metered pumping" within the Borrego Basin. The Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, comprising the Borrego Water District and the County of San Diego, will apply for a State grant to cover part of the cost of installing flow meters on private production wells extracting more than two acre feet of water per year, the owners of which agree in writing to participate. Once installed the meters will be read at least once a month to document seasonal variations in water use.
What is troubling about this report is the heavy emphasis on "voluntary metered pumping" ("meter" or its variants appear in the update a half-dozen times but never without the modifier). A very few pumpers already have flow meters on their wells and allow BWD access to the readings. The opportunity to do so has been open to all pumpers, but most have ignored or declined it. What that very likely means is that BWD is already collecting all the data will get from volunteer pumpers. Historically pumpers have protected such information like the crown jewels, so all of this hype may be just much ado about nothing unless metering is required of all non-de minimus production wells in the Basin forthwith.
Finally, the irony that one of the few, if not the only, "Groundwater Sustainability Update" ever published that actually contains substantive information about the effort to control the overdraft of the Borrego Basin is also the only one to be labeled "boilerplate" cannot pass without comment.
N.B. Note the disjuncture between the lenient policy on metering described above and the urgency to control pumping to protect future water quality reflected in what follows.
At their June meeting BWD directors agreed that the issue of water quality data for the Borrego Basin is "in need of immediate attention" and that "as much [data] as possible" will be required to plan for Borrego's future. Many aspects of the SGMA deal not just with the quantity of water available, but with the quality of water remaining in the aquifer. The State strictly limits contaminants allowed in drinking water and if treatment is required to bring water within those limits the cost to BWD ratepayers will be very - perhaps prohibitively - high.
Hydrologist John Peterson "has for literally decades repeatedly 'preached' the need for acquiring water quality data to guide decisions on Borrego's water future. This time board members agreed to act" and will allocate funds to test water for critical contaminants at least annually beginning in the Fall of this year. Director Lyle Brecht claims to favor 'front-loading' in reducing the amount of water pumped each each year. i.e. making large cuts in water use as soon as possible rather than waiting until 2040 to reach sustainability as allowed by SGMA - presumably to reduce the possibility of encountering contaminated water as the aquifer is drawn down.
The first half of this update describes the agenda for the upcoming Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee meeting at which the District's consulting engineers will make a presentation on basin hydrology and grant funding possibilities. The second half of the quarter-page paid ad is devoted to an announcement that water in Borrego's schools is lead-free while acknowledging that the information is "not technically Groundwater Sustainability related." But BWD paid for a quarter-page so had to fill it somehow and you can only enlarge the font so much before it calls attention to itself. As usual with these "updates," it is hard to see how any of this brings the basin any closer to sustainability.
"As summer heats up, so does the activity of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan... and work has intensively begun on a number of complex issues within the GSP planning process." So goes the optimistic lede for this Update. At least the rhetoric has warmed up a bit. It remains to be seen if the cumbersome and unwieldy GSP apparatus can accommodate an actual increase in meaningful activity.
The GSP Advisory Committee will hear about 3 "key issues" at its next meeting and AC members will then discuss the issues with the interest groups they represent and bring recommendations back to the AC at a later date. The three issues are:
A report on the May 15 meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Trey Driscoll of Dudek, Inc. Summarized the status of the GSP and offered a slightly modified division of current water use (agriculture 72%, recreation 17%, municipal 11%), pointed out areas in the northern valley (agricultural area) where concerns about water use are the greatest, provided an update on the 1,423 outstanding water credits which can be bought and sold like commodities with the same attendant risks and warned that their value may reach zero upon implementation of the GSP. According to Driscoll many wells in the valley show levels of total dissolved solids well below that requiring treatment to be used as drinking water, but others are "very close to or even exceed" the maximum allowed and some are on the rise - especially on and in the vicinity of Rams Hill. He also provided daunting cost estimates for various options to reduce water use in the basin which could be financed by issuing bonds that would have to be repaid by BWD ratepayers.
Describes a new 35-acre herb farm in the north valley. It is on land previously used for agriculture so there are no restrictions on water use - at least until the GSP is implemented.
A graphic and spot-on depiction of Rams Hill's business plan (see next entry below).
Berkley confirmed that Rams Hill is "'exploring' the possibility of another golf course... using maybe forty per cent less water than we're using on the course we have," and thinks the owners "can come up with a reason - politically speaking - why the community would let us use 500 (acre feet of water)." The future of the proposed course seems to depend upon BWD receiving "a share of the $7 Billion [State] water bound money in 2018" that would allow the District to "offer the farmers the money for the land" currently under cultivation and provide them a "chance for an excellent exit before the mandated reduction" triggered by implementation of a GSP forces them to cease farming. Essentially Berkley envisions a situation wherein BWD buys out the farmers and Rams Hill gets the water. Not a bad business plan - for Berkley and the farmers.
A report on the 15 May Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee. Reports that the morning session "consisted of organizational and structural discussions about the Advisory Committee", i.e. housekeeping. The afternoon session was a presentation by Trey Driscoll of Dudek, Inc. on the status and scope of work encompassed by the GSP.
An interview with Bill Berkley regarding "goings on at Rams Hill" including installation of a solar farm and experimentation with hydroponic agriculture to raise produce that Berkley claims only requires one acre foot of water (per year?) to grow $4 million worth of produce. We'll see.
There were two letters concerning Borrego's water situation in this issue:
One letter expresses concern about plans to build another golf course at Rams Hill and calls it "foolhardy" to even consider more golf courses in the valley. Also argues that domestic use of water should be the highest priority in a new groundwater sustainability plan. Once adequate domestic supplies are assured "water that remains would then be available for agriculture and golf."
Another comments on unfounded claims that Borrego's groundwater management efforts have already been a success and points out that insofar as there have been any such efforts, they have been an unqualified, unmitigated disaster. (For the full-text of this letter click here.)
Filler, more filler, and nothing but filler. Reports that: construction of a new water storage tank to replace one that failed and solar energy facilities to serve the BWD office and warehouse has been completed; the "updated BWD website is nearing completion" as it has been for many months: the BWD board is "investigating additional cyber security measures. Also suggests several issues that will come before the board in May. How any of this counts as developments in groundwater sustainability is anyone's guess.
This Update, like those that precede it, fails to live up to its title. It is no more than a meeting notice with a few hackneyed background facts about the SGMA thrown in for padding. It announces another meeting of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee on 15 May, reiterates the purpose of the AC, and that the "prime consultant" for the GSP, Dudek Inc., will lead a discussion of the GSP, and reminds everyone that its purpose is to reduce Basin-wide pumping by 70%, preserve potable water "sources" (there is only one), and retain affordable water rates, among other things.
There were two letters concerning Borrego's water situation in this issue. Usually there are none.
One letter objects to Rams Hill owner Bill Berkeley's announced plan to build yet another golf course at Rams Hill because "the valley's water supply is already in desperate straits" and can't support it and calls it "a very bad idea" for Borrego that should be rejected. An opinion with which no reasonable person could disagree.
The second is a satirical letter thanking "farmers and golf courses in Borrego for draining our aquifer" and "all the water boards and 'locals' who allowed this to happen" in just sixty years ensuring that the town will see little or no growth in future because of the critical lack of water.
This Update barely rises above the usual "much ado about nothing." It reports on the 10 April meeting of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee (AC) which received a presentation on the "important aspects of the GSP." If an advisory committee needs a briefing on "the important aspects" of that on which it is supposed to advise it is probably already in over its head. But never mind. The "Update" goes on to describe the "major issues" for the AC as "preserving potable water resources and allocating water" among agriculture, recreation, and municipal use (BWD) in a way that will protect the potable water supplies [there is only one] and avoid the need for additional [and very expensive] water treatment." It cites fallowing farm land as the most likely option for reducing water use and lists a number of issues it poses and possible solutions, but admits that "[t]he County, BWD, and the AC will have their hands full in" dealing with them. That's putting it mildly.
Dudek Engineering Inc. has been selected as the "Prime Consultant" to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin along with a gaggle of "sub-consultants." Dudek has already been providing BWD with technical advice on a wide variety of issues, including the Basin overdraft, for three years; so this is merely the formalization of an existing relationship, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, and hardly qualifies as breaking news. Still, on a relative scale, it reflects progress - depressing as that may be.
A very brief and singularly uninformative summary of the BWD Annual Town Hall meeting on 29 March. The agenda for the meeting provided more detail and the paucity of information reflects the continuing lack of meaningful progress on producing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
California is pushing to accelerate implementation of the State Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA), the goal of which is to facilitate a more uniform and sustainable approach to groundwater management statewide. Critics complain that the groundwater overdraft problem is so great that the state should move faster to curb pumping. State officials say the problem is almost a century old and will require years to correct.
Some view the new local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) mandated by the SGMA as an opportunity for the previously disenfranchised to have a voice in shaping local groundwater policy; others worry that they will only perpetuate dominance of powerful agribusinesses in controlling groundwater. In any case, the GSAs will have to take a hard look at local land use and determine what is supportable in each of the state's 127 overdrafted groundwater basins
All parties are concerned about how they may be affected and want their needs addressed. Successful development and implementation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans will require active engagement by all groundwater users in a basin, but the requirement for community involvement in the local agency formation process is often being ignored leaving the foxes to guard the hen-house. For the law to be successful, there will have to be a dramatic change in California's power structure to provide responsible stewardship of water.
SGMA provides for the California Department of Water Resources to assume control of a basin when a local agency's makeup isn't inclusive enough or if a plan falls short of sustainability goals, but there is significant concern that DWR may prove incapable of making such tough regulatory calls.
It would be naive to expect that this groundwater statute will upend the entrenched politics of water in California where powerful corporate interests hold sway, but it may give all concerned parties a chance to influence decisions about groundwater policy - if they will take it.
Not only is there still no meaningful progress to report but we now know that there may be none for many years: "It may take up to 20 years before the final touches are put on the implementation of Borrego's Groundwater Sustainability Plan... BWD and the County of San Diego are now beginning the process to develop the Groundwater Sustainability Plan." No wonder these "Updates" have been vacuous.
The first public meeting of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee on 6 March "was dedicated to procedural issues... [c]hief among [which]... is the requirement to hold all discussions and deliberations in public and not in back rooms away from the public eye." But "it is permissable [for Advisory Committee members] to hold private conversations about almost any subject between individual Advisory Committee members, what are discouraged are conversations about agenda items being discussed at the next meeting." That is just a clumsy and deceitful way of saying: "You can conive, collude, and log-roll to your heart's content; just don't be too obvious about it."
A letter to the editor exposing a disingenuous propaganda campaign, by the Borrego Water Coalition to burnish the image of farmers and other pumpers in the Valley.
Yet another fortnight with no material progress toward groundwater sustainability in the Valley, but selection of a consultant to assist with development of a Plan, which must be completed before 2020, "is expected to occur in March." Hope springs eternal. The BWD board and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors are "co-Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) for the Borrego Basin" and both must sanction a Plan before it can be sent to the State of California for approval and court validation. "'Stakeholder Participation' is a key component of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan and the Borrego Basin GSAs have created a nine-member Advisory Committee" to provide at least the illusion of same. Four of the nine members are pumpers in the valley and all of the members except for the BWD ratepayer representative "have existing structures," i.e. organized interest groups, to work with. For ratepayers, then, it's kind of like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
In the late 70's and early 80,s Borrego Springs averaged seven inches of rain per year, but that has dropped to a little more than five inches per year "since the onset of the drought." This year, however, the article speculates that Borrego may again receive as much as seven inches of rain marking a "return to normal" annual rainfall in the valley. Or it may just be a one-off. One swallow does not a summer make.
Support for A Ray Shindler's argument that the BWD board must negotiate a larger initial share of the aquifer's safe-yield to avoid unaffordable water rates. For the full-text of this letter click here.
Apparently there is still no progress on reaching groundwater sustainability in the Valley to report. Instead this "Update" solicits "topics of most interest to Borregans" to be covered at the upcoming Town Hall Meeting. Currently at the top of the list is the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan, especially "the overall schedule" and how the public can participate in the process of developing the Plan. The article describes the Borrego Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee consisting of nine individuals "nominated by various organizations in Borrego... to ensure that the interests of their organization are represented throughout the development of the GSP." That's not, however, public participation as usually understood. It's participation by special interests and sounds awfully like a reprise of the Borrego Water Coalition which has served only to prevent direct public participation in the process.
A report on the BWD board meeting on 17 January. The board received a consultant's report forecasting water availability in 2040 when water use in the valley must be reduced to no more than the aquifer's safe-yield of 5,700 acre-feet per year. The report concluded that to meet this requirement BWD must work with San Diego County to significantly reduce the existing density for new housing starting yesterday. Another consultant's report forecasting water rates in 2040 "concluded that they could triple." The board also "endorsed" eight members of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee. One more member, who will represent the Borrego Water Coalition, remains to be appointed even though six of the eight members already endorsed are members of the BWC. Curious isn't it?
This iteration of the Groundwater Sustainability Update may actually live up to its billing - but barely and then only if you include acts of God. It reports that, despite what most locals will tell themselves, the recent rains "will have very little impact on [Borrego's] severely depleted aquifer" beyond a transient reduction in pumpage and prudently concludes: "we still need to conserve."
More filler! This time it looks like the dog's breakfast. Despite the urgency of the situation, there apparently has again been no progress on groundwater sustainability to report. This "update" resorts to citing statistics on BWD's infrastructure and customers that should be available on its website. That still filled only half the space available, however, so it goes on to provide a brief history of water use in the Borrego Valley starting with Native Americans before settlers arrived. Alas, even that was still not quite enough text, so the final paragraph describes the geology of the basin. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.
A letter to the editor by Ray Shindler advocating that BWD ensure that it receives at least enough water to serve its existing customers from the 5,700 acre feet allowed under the State Groundwater Management Act. As things stand now the District will receive only one-third of that amount.
Michael Sadler is at it again. This article ostensibly has nothing to do with water. But about one-third of the way in comes this astonishing assertion: "While aquifer conservation is on everyone's mind, 'The resort has its own wells and they are giving us just what we need,' says [the club pro] The fairways are lush rye grass..." The implication of this statement is that since Borrego Springs Resort has its own wells water use on the course somehow doesn't count, but any and every well in the Valley draws upon - and depletes - the Valley's sole-source aquifer. Sadler, who often poses as an expert on groundwater, should know better even if he isn't. A letter to the editor in the same issue entitled "Beam Me Up Sadler" takes issue with a "nutty statement" that Sadler made in an article about astronomy - another of his self-ascribed areas of expertise. At least he is consistent if often wrong.
The process by which the Borrego Valley will attempt to reduce water use from the current 19,000 acre feet per year to the maximum of 5,700 a/f per year allowed under the State Groundwater Management Act of 2014 and reallocate that reduced amount across all current users has already begun. There is, however, a very high risk that Borrego Water District ratepayers will face a water shortage, unaffordable water rates, or, more likely, both unless the District aggressively negotiates for a fair share of the allowable maximum use. The Borrego Water District board, however, shows no inclination to do that. (For the full-text of this article click here.)
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