Digger - July 4, 2019
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.
Harry Ehrlich, who has served on the Borrego Water District board for two and one-half years, is stepping down at the end of June. The board will appoint someone to fill the remainder of his four-year term.
The second in a promised series of excerpts from comments submitted to San Diego County regarding the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The Audubon Society's comments address concerns the Society has about the draft regarding: Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, beneficial uses and users of groundwater, and depletion of interconnected surface water systems. The comment letter asks that significant deficiencies in the draft document with respect to these topics be addressed and suggests specific remedies for each.
Two letters. One about water.
Water Ratepayers Representative Report, p. 6
A letter from Gary Haldeman, BWD Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee, outlining the work of the Ratepayer Group over the first five months of the year and asking BWD to make significant changes to the draft GSP before it is approved and adopted. In brief, the Ratepayer Group wants to ensure that BWD:
- receives a minimum and irreducible 1,700 acre feet of water as an initial allocation and sustainability is achieved "immediately";
- initiates an "all-out... fund raising effort to purchase land/water" straightaway;
- guarantees the transparency and openness of the GSP process by including ratepayers in all essential conversations regarding the GSP.
Discusses the complications of selling a 20' x 20' parcel of land containing two abandoned wells to La Casa del Zoro so the resort can build a solar farm.
The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group urges everyone to submit comments on the GSP to the California Department of Water Resources before their comment period closes in July (no specific date provided). The DWR comment period opened just as San Diego County's closed. Go figure.
On 1 July, BWD's water and sewer rates will increase. The water rate will increase 6%, sewer rate by 4%, and the monthly water base rate, a fixed charge, by 5%.
The first in a promised series of excerpts from comments submitted to San Diego County regarding the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. This one is from the comment letter submitted by the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group. Rebecca Falk,, Chair of the Sponsor Group, provided an additional comment to the Borrego Sun:
"Private attorney-led negotiations are now taking place to agree on water rights in Borrego, and elements of water reduction, fallowing, and water trading programs are part of those negotiations. We need 1) transparency to the public; 2) risks and costs to our economically disadvantaged community taken into account; and 3) equity, so that the greatest water over-drafters are responsible for needed water reductions."
Three letters. Three about water.
Two letters question the expansion of an herb farm on Borrego Springs Rd. at a time when everyone is being asked to reduce water consumption. One letter complains about recent increases in BWD's water rates.
At their 28 May board meeting BWD directors received a summary of a study to determine the potential socioeconomic effects of the proposed Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The author of the report concluded that "the only sector that significant reductions could feasibly come from is agriculture," the impacts of reductions in water use could include loss of low-income workers due to decreases in business revenue and the need for agricultural workers, and the subsequent out-migration could result in the loss of schools. On the right side of a ledger, the study determined that tourism has the most potential to provide economic growth for the community.
The "final bid" of $3.8 million for the Borrego Springs Resort didn't meet the seller's reserve price which was not released to the public. The two highest bidders are now able to negotiate with the seller in an attempt to reach a deal.
A letter from 5th District County Supervisor Jim Desmond thanking those who attended the Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee Meeting on 7 May. Among a plethora of other topics of interest, albeit second from last in the rather long list, was "Water Issues."
Two letters, one about water.
"Supervisor Desmond's Message"
A letter from Gary Haldeman, BWD Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee concerning remarks made by District Five San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond when he was in Borrego Springs on 7 May to institute a new County program called Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee.
Work has begun on a well to replace an aging BWD well on DiGiorgio Road. The well is expected to be 1,000 feet deep and reach to bedrock "to help insure a continuous supply of potable water for the Borrego community."
District Five San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond was in Borrego Springs on 7 May to institute a new County program called Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee intended to match County funds and resources with community needs. Desmond made clear at the outset that he and other County staffers present were emphatically not in town to talk about Borrego's water crisis because that fell within the purview of the Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Desmond did, however, make one comment about the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan, i.e. if the pumpers in the Valley cannot reach a negotiated agreement with the Groundwater Sustainability Agency on allocation of the aquifer's safe yield the County would opt out of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process and let the State step in to manage it. Suggestions from the audience for community needs that might be addressed by the Revitalization Committee included:
A letter from the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency commenting on the Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin. Requests changes to the draft GSP including no reductions in water use for the municipal sector, front loading reductions in water use so that more water is saved in the early years of the plan, immediate implementation of mandatory metering for all pumpers, imposition of mandatory water quality monitoring, and others.
Two letters, one about water.
A letter submitted by a Borrego Springs resident to San Diego County as a comment on the draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin. It makes a compelling case for giving human consumption and use of water priority over agricultural and recreational uses in the final GSP and against equal proportional reduction by all users in the Basin as called for in the draft GSP.
Following the meeting with District Five Supervisor Desmond (see "Jim Desmond Hits Town" above), County Groundwater Geologist Jim Bennett met with folks especially interested in water issues. Participants expressed concern about across-the-board cuts in water use whereby all sectors (agriculture, golf, and BWD) would have to reduce their use by 70-75%. Bennett said that the so-called "proportional use" reductions were not required by the GSP and BWD General Manager Geoff Poole said more information on the District's options would be presented at a ratepayer meeting on 14 May. With respect to Desmond's comment that the County might "withdraw from the GSA if law suits appear eminent," Bennett said "Desmond might let the State take over management of groundwater in that event. GM Poole revealed that there were ongoing negotiations with pumpers toward a possible stipulated agreement to resolve differences over allocations and reductions. Other concerns expressed at the meeting included: the accuracy of the USGS/Dudek aquifer model, the over-long 20 year period to achieve sustainable water use, fallowing standards, and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems.
A tentative schedule for further discussion of the GSP:
Borrego Springs Resort goes on auction 21 May at a starting price of $1.5 million. The present owners purchased the property in 2016 for $2.95 million. The Borrego Sun requested information from the current owners about the reasons for the sale, but had not received a response by press time.
One letter. None about water.
At the 23 April of the BWD board Director Lyle Brecht expressed several concerns about the Groundwater Sustainability Plan which he said ignores:
Director Dave Duncan said that governance of the plan must be addressed in the GSP and listed several options including:
The public review period for the 800 page Borrego Basin GSP ends on 21 May. While most of the period has already expired, the article suggests that "[t]he potential still exists to influence the final draft of the GSP through this process." Better late than never apparently.
A flawed attempt to explain how reducing demand on the Borrego Valley aquifer will be accomplished. The article alternates between chatty and flippant and overly technical and in the end neither amuses nor informs but frustrates the reader. Worse yet it propounds egregious errors of fact. One significant nugget of information contained in the long article is that only one of approximately 20 agricultural pumpers In the Valley submitted "validated historical [groundwater] production data" to support their claim for an allocation of the aquifer's safe yield. All of the others were estimated. Other than that there is nothing new here and it would be redundant for any one who has been following the development of the GSP and essentially opaque to any one who has not. Although it bears no byline, it has all the earmarks of Michael Sadler's usual obscure and confounding style.
"While residents of Borrego Springs want a sufficient quantity of water to sustain our personal and recreational needs. we also do not want to sacrifice quality over quantity. We want to be able to drink our groundwater and know its safe." In general, groundwater in the Borrego Basin now meets California drinking water standards without treatment, but as the aquifer level drops harmful levels of contaminants may require treatment. Currently only one of four groundwater quality monitoring wells is located in the Northern Management (agricultural) Area of the Basin, but it is several miles south of the farms that use most of the nitrate fertilizer. Even so, nitrate levels are trending upward and may be migrating toward the town's main water supply, so "[m]ore monitoring wells generating much more data are called for" according to John Peterson, former San Diego County hydrogeologist who has studied groundwater in the Borrego Basin for 30 years. The same data could be supplied by "other pumpers," but whether these folks will cooperate in the effort to gather and report it is unknown. Another threat to water quality arises from the fact that arsenic levels exceeding standards for safe drinking water have been detected in the Lower Aquifer in the Southern Management Area.
Borrego Springs Resort will be put up for auction on 21 May with a starting price of $1.5 million.
Two letters. One about water.
Communal Irrigation Systems, p. 7
The third in a series of letters from GSP Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman to the Borrego Sun addressing issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. This one suggest that there are viable and reasonable mechanisms for managing groundwater in the Borrego Valley.
At its 26 March and 9 April meetings the BWD board discussed a proposal to partner with the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council to retain the services of the Local Government Commission to study how the community may develop while reducing groundwater use by 75% as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Projects related to implementation of the GSP are projected to cost $20 million. The rest of the article presents excruciating and bewildering details of the budget.
At a workshop on 8 April representatives of the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council introduced the principles of "integrated master planning" as a means of implementing Borrego's GSP. As usual with dispatches from this group, you are on your own to figure out what that means and how it is supposed to work.
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin , an 878 page document that will be a "road map" for navigating Borrego's water future and achieving groundwater sustainability not later than 2040, is finally available for public comment. The Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, comprising the Borrego Water District and San Diego County, will have overall responsibility for its implementation. The District and the County will have overlapping responsibilities for groundwater management while the County will retain authority for land use in the Basin.
This is the first in a planned series of articles about the GSP and focuses on the Plan's Water Trading Program (WTP) that will allow non-de minimus pumpers to exchange water allowances under a strict set of rules. It will affect only those who own wells and pump more than two acre-feet of water per year, i.e. not BWD ratepayers. The WTP may replace the existing Water Credits Program.
Two letters. Two about water.
Correction to Sponsor Group Article
A letter from Rebecca Falk, Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group Chair, pointing out that a previous Borrego Sun article incorrectly stated that the Sponsor Group had "recommended" that certain items be included in the GSP. In fact, no recommendations were made.
One of the questions was: "Is the aquifer half-empty or half-full?"
U. S. Gypsum proposes to pay for restoration of the fallowed Viking Ranch which is owned by BWD to meet environmental mitigation requirements resulting from expansion of its mining operations.
Largely duplicates information contained in the page 1 article above.
In March the Borrego Water District released a nearly 1,000-page draft report outlining how the community must and will reduce its water use by a staggering 74.6 percent between now and 2040. Over the past 65 years, groundwater levels have declined as much as 126 feet (an average of nearly 2 feet per year) in the northern part of the sub-basin, where the community is located. As groundwater levels fall, it becomes more and more expensive to pump and water quality deteriorates. If nothing is done, eventually it will simply cost too much money to pump and filter groundwater.
All of Borrego Springs will need to bite the proverbial bullet, but none more so than farmers. Farming has long been a part of Borrego Springs, but is depleting the aquifer beneath the town. The drastic but long-anticipated cutbacks will effectively end farming in the Borrego Valley. Water-conservation programs will also be required for golf courses, businesses and individual customers of the local water district that pumps the water they use from its wells.
The plan will limit future growth in the community as water restrictions put a damper on new construction. But Geoff Poole, general manager of the Borrego Water District, said that with the release of the plan developers will no longer be in limbo and will be able to figure out whether projects are feasible under the future water cutbacks. Poole said most towns facing mandatory water cutbacks of 74.6 percent would probably just fold up shop, but the plan is a guide that creates a path, however tough and painful, for Borrego Springs to survive. The report lists different methods or "management actions" that will be taken to reduce water demand by reducing the amount of water allocated to all major users. Domestic users won't be affected by the mandatory reductions, but their rates will rise.
Last November Prop. 3, a comprehensive statewide water bond measure, was defeated by voters. The bond would have provided $35 million to address Borrego's dire water situation, with most of the money going to compensate farmers for the loss of their land and businesses. While there remains hope that a future water bond may pass, leaders are pursuing other grants and funding to buy out farmers who know their days are numbered in any case.
For the full text of this article click here.
One letter. One about water.
Water Ratepayers - Less Than a 20-Year GSP Implementation Period, p. 6
The second in a series of letters from GSP Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman to the Borrego Sun addressing issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. This one explains the need to shorten the time to sustainability.
Release of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan for public review has been delayed until late March/early April. No reason given. Latest projections indicate that a reduction in pumping from the Basin of 76.4% is required to reach sustainability. BWD and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will hold a series of meetings to share information and answer questions about the GSP.
For 70 years "agriculture has been overwhelmingly the major pumper in the basin," uses 70% of the water pumped each year, and "has been the major cause of the aquifer's depletion." Ratepayer use (10% of total) is less by far than that of either golf courses (20% of total) or agriculture. Moreover, ratepayer use is and has for many years been metered and recorded. These data demonstrate that ratepayers have reduced their use since the 1980s. Farmer's, on the other hand, have made little effort to reduce their use and repeatedly challenged and denied scientific evidence that the aquifer is in critical overdraft. Some farms are not metered and some farmers with meters are unwilling to share their meter readings to help manage the overdraft. Ratepayers, who use the least water of the three user groups, have made the most concerted effort to conserve water and paid for studies to determine the state of the aquifer. Farmers have contributed virtually nothing to these substantial costs.
Golf courses are consistent with the recreational character of the town and important to the towns future, but Borrego Springs has six of them. Not all of will survive on reduced water rations and those that do must become far more water-efficient in future.
The Point of View concludes that because farmers have clearly been poor stewards of the aquifer and the major cause of the overdraft they should bear the greatest burden in rectifying it.
The Ratepayer Group lead by Ratepayer Representative to the Advisory Committee for the GSP Gary Haldeman is aligned with the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group in calling for a minimum allocation of 1,700 acre feet of water per year for BWD in the GSP. The draft GSP to be released soon calls for cuts in municipal use over time from the current use of 1,700 acre feet per year. The Ratepayer Group and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group argue that the municipal allocation must not be reduced. They also argue for reduction of the 20 year implementation period for full implementation of the GSP; inclusion of a requirement for maintenance, monitoring, and testing of water quality; and sufficient water set aside to ensure the survival and continued existence of groundwater dependent eco-systems.
There are four "action items" the Sponsor Group wants incorporated into the GSP:
At the BWD Town Hall meeting on 28 February BWD board members "reviewed water related topics," but not the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for which separate meetings will be scheduled. BWD has emerged from a period of "severe financial stress" that began in 2011 and is now in "good financial shape." It can now fund capital improvement projects in coming years while maintaining water rates that compare "very favorably with other communities in San Diego County."
Director Lyle Brecht answered the question "Can or should the District claim pumping allocations with no reductions, without any payment to other pumpers?" with a "no" citing a "moral argument based on equity, fairness, and environmental justice." Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman, however, disagrees (see below).
One letter. One about water.
"1,700 Acre Feet af/Yr. For Ratepayers,"
A letter from Gary Haldeman, Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee enumerating four issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. They are:
Ratepayers/BWD require a minimum initial allocation of 1,700 acre feet of water per year, the amount currently used, to ensure the survival and modest growth of the community which has already reduced its water use by at least 30% in recent years;
The maximum implementation period for the GSP of 20 years must be substantially reduced;
The GSP must require rigorous water quality testing and assign responsibility for remediation of any threats to water quality as appropriate;
The GSP must safeguard existing natural habitats by setting aside sufficient water to assure their survival and lasting presence.
More letters from Mr. Haldeman about these demands will appear in future issues of the Borrego Sun.
The reimbursement agreement between San Diego County and BWD under a $1 million Proposition 1 grant from the California Dept. of Water Resources was approved at the BWD board's meeting on 26 February. One-half of the grant money is designated for BWD and the District can now begin to recoup money already spent on consultants and other things. One agricultural business has accepted BWD's offer of a free flow meter and Dudek Engineering is making arrangements for its installation.
A draft of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan will be released mid-March for a 60-day public review and comment period. BWD and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group are planning a series of meetings to inform the public about the GSP and allow them to ask and have answered questions about it.
One letter. None about water.
See next but one entry.
A report on the 31 January meeting of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Advisory Committee at which the fifth and final chapter of the Groundwater Management Plan was reviewed. Chapter 5 outlines implementation of the GSP including cost estimates, schedule, reporting requirements, and "contemplated" funding sources which include "pumping fees, assessment/parcel taxes, and low interest loans." The GSP implementation schedule begins in 2020. The GSP is an "adaptive plan" that will be continuously updated during the 20 year implementation period. The draft will be released on March 15 for a 60 day public review period.
Because BWD and the County plan on a seriess of meetings on the GSP during the 60 day comment period, this meeting will focus on other issues of importance including operations, capital improvements, finances, and rate projections.
After the failure of Prop 3, a couple of proposals are circulating in the community to raise the $35 million needed to purchase and fallow farmland to reduce water use as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. One would have the County and the State contribute funds. Another would have BWD raise the funds by another bond issue to be paid off by ratepayers. In any case, something must be done soon to contain the economic damage that is and will continue to be done to the community if the uncertainty over funding the Groundwater Sustainability Plan is allowed to continue.
Reports on progress implementing BWD's latest Capital Improvement Plan including pipelines and well replacements.
BWD commissioned a report assessing groundwater elevation declines at each of its nine production wells, examine hydrologic conditions at each well site, and gauge the potential impact of overdraft on future water production. The purpose of the project was to learn how closely actual water level measurements match projections generated by the USGS computer model. What seems clear from the article is that declines in water levels across the sample ranged from 20 to 89 feet and at only one of the eight wells was there "a good match" between the projected and actual values. After that the language becomes so confusing as to defy interpretation with any level of confidence. Either four of the wells showed a drop in elevation greater than the projected value while three wells showed a drop in elevation less than the projected value, or vice versa. Moreover, a critical piece of information, i.e. the period over which the changes in elevation occurred, is missing. The article does stress the importance of receiving reliable measured information from agricultural and golf course wells as soon as possible and at regular intervals in future to inform critical decisions that must be made to meet Sustainable Groundwater Management Act deadlines.
The aquifer under BWD monitoring well #1 has dropped 42 feet since 2004 or 3 ft./yr. on average.
The GSP Core Team is completing an internal review of the draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan that will be released for a sixty day public review in February. Comments and questions about the draft from the public are encouraged and there will be public meetings concerning the GSP during the sixty day review period.
In late 2017 BWD and the County applied for a $1 million grant from the California Department of Water Resources to cover costs related to implementing the GSP. The grant was "tentatively approved" in early 2018. "An agreement has been reached on the final language in the grant documents and between the County and DWR so the grant funding process can now continue." BWD has already paid the majority of costs on the expectation that they will be reimbursed by DWR once funds are released.
4 Letters: 1 about water, 1 sort of about water.
Appeasement, the Endowment Effect, and the GSP, p. 7
Recently the Borrego Sun published two letters detailing and justifying changes to the proposed GSP that must be made to protect BWD ratepayers and ensure the longevity of Borrego Springs. Many probably wonder why, at this late date, these conspicuous defects in the GSP have not long since been addressed. This letter to the editor explains why.
The Fate of the Club Circle Golf Course. p.8
A letter from a Club Circle resident to District Five County Supervisor Jim Desmond seeking help in meeting the cost of watering and maintaining the Club Circle Golf Course once BWD discontinues its support of such costs in June 2019.
A report on the BWD board meeting of 8 January at which Kathy Dice was elected President of the board and Dave Duncan Secretary/Treasurer. Lyle Brecht will continue as Vice-President. Dave Duncan will join Ray Delahay on the Operations and Infrastructure standing committee which oversees BWD's maintenance and capital improvement projects.
Four construction projects to replace water pipelines south of Christmas Circle will begin on 25 January.
Linda Haddock resigned as Executive Director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce effective 31 December 2018 to pursue other business opportunities.
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