Digger - October 20, 2020
Highlights of recent articles about or related to groundwater in the Borrego Valley of California and efforts to manage it - or not.
For previous years click here.
This long article concerns a certified letter sent to all property owners in the Borrego Valley by the Orange County Superior Court informing them of a law suit filed by the Borrego Water District asking that the Court determine "all rights to pump or store water in the Borrego Springs Groundwater Subbasin" which the California Department of Water Resources has determined to be critically overdrafted. Under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 withdrawals from the Borrego Springs Groundwater Subbasin must be reduced to no more than the natural recharge to the Subbasin not later than 2040. Major pumpers in the Subbasin entered into a settlement agreement to accomplish the reduction and submitted it to the Court for approval. The law suit was necessary to get the matter before the court. Under California law, BWD was required to notify all landowners within the basin of the suit. Thus the "scary letter." Landowners do not, however, have to participate in or respond to the suit and should not do so unless they object to specific terms of the settlement agreement or the Court's Stipulated Judgment deriving from it. Disregard the letter if you are knowledgeable about and certain that you approve of the Settlement Plan and trust those who represent your sector, i. e., BWD, agriculture, or recreation, to defend your interests.
This is the eleventh in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
At their meeting on September 24, the Executive Director reported that the flow meters on "almost all" wells to be monitored have been calibrated and certified and all entry permits to read the meters have been signed. So there is "now 99% compliance with the mandatory meter reading preparations. We will now have verified numbers about how much water is being pumped in our valley." Audience member Lyle Brecht pointed out "that the role of the [WMB Technical Advisory Committee] is to respond to the needs of the WMB, not to create its own plan." Directors Duncan and Smith agreed. Brecht also asked that the formation, mission, and budget for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) be put on the agenda for the next WMB meeting because "provisions for the EWG in the Stipulated Judgment were scant. and. the EWG is important. Director Duncan agreed".
More information about the BWD law suit is available at borregowaterlawsuit.com. The first thing to realize is that "the stipulated judgment itself will only be our official water plan once a judge affirms it. The only way to get a judge to do that is to have the judge preside over a law suit." So the parties to the settlement agreement agreed that there would be a 'friendly' lawsuit to bring the matter before a judge. BWD is, therefore, suing all of the other pumpers as well as all other property owners in the valley as required by law to certify the Stipulated Judgment and make the WMB an official body approved by the court.
Regarding the Notice: Every land owner in Borrego Springs can participate in the law suit by filing the form included in the Notice and paying a$435 filing fee, but no one is required to file a response. Failure to respond, however, means you will not be participating in the law suit as an individual and tacitly agree that the court's resolution will be final and the basin will be managed by the WaterMaster Board. Substantive filed documents will be uploaded to and available on the above referended website. WMB's attorney advised that anyone who owns a well in the Subbasin might want to be a party to the law suit in order to be fully informed about the proceedings. Rams Hill's attorney suggested that "Unless a landowner has a well and pumps more than 2afy. there's likely little they could gain by filing an answer to become an active defendant in the case."
Five letters. None about water.
Three candidates are running for two seats on the BWD board in November.
Tammy Baker - Running because she "believe[s] that everyone in Borrego should have clean affordable water." Bachelor's degree from Cornell University and MBA from Northwestern University. Career in engineering and engineering management. Resident of Borrego for less than one year and has been "actively engaged at BWD and WaterMaster board meetings for almost half a year."
Bruce Bergener - Two primary concerns: "Sustaining our aquifer" and the proposal to bring Colorado River water to our aquifer. Retired oceanographer. Bachelor's degree in chemistry, Master's degree in Physical Science, and post-graduate studies in oceanography. Resident of Borrego since 2017.
Diane Johnson - Retired reference librarian. Represented the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee for two years. Member of the BWD board since August 2019. Resident of Borrego since 2003.
This is the tenth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
The September 10 meeting of the WMB "was confusing on a few levels, but... all is most likely OK. After all... the Board hasn't yet gelled to the point that thorough and comfortable discussion occurs each time that is warranted."
Director Dave Duncan was elected Chairman, Director Shannon Smith Vice-Chair and Secretary/Treasurer. The regular meeting time of the WMB was set as the second Thursday (of the month?) but additional special meetings probably will be scheduled during the next few months. The principal location for the WMB will likely be at the offices of Wildermuth Environmental Inc.(WEI) in Orange County, though Jack McGory offered space at La Casa del Zorro for a local, part-time office and use of his suite at LCdZ for WMB staff when they need to overnight in Borrego.
Meter reading protocols were adopted by the Board and involve filling out a data sheet and taking photos. Ag Attorney Staples asked that GPS locations recorded on the forms not be made public for security reasons and WMB Counsel Markman assured the Board that such information could easily be redacted from any public record requests. Counsel also expressed hope that meter installations will be completed before the start of meter reading on October 1. When asked for a report on the statement the ED and Counsel made at the last meeting about the entry permit for meter reading being written to favor property owners over the WMB the response was that the entry permits are in the exact form that appears in the Stipulated Agreement.
ED Adams reported that letters went out to all pumpers informing them that meters would be read September 28 - 30, and entry permits have started coming back from pumpers. The meters on fifty wells need to be tested for accuracy before meter reading commences. Forty of these have already been tested and Director Seeley will work on getting any missing entry permits signed and returned.
Notices have begun to go out to Borrego landowners regarding the Stipulated Agreement process and the stipulation documents and notice to pumpers are up on the DWR website.
WEI can offer comprehensive banking services for WMB and the CFO of WEI is working on the logistics of doing so.
Three letters. None about water.
For the last three years BWD has been considering replacement of the 60 year old Twin Tanks at the bottom of Montezuma Grade. A recent inspection determined that the tanks could suffer a catastrophic failure and rehabilitation was not feasible. A grant application to fund replacement is pending and BWD's General Manager is confident that it will be approved. The existing tanks will be demolished and replaced by a single tank on the same site.
The San Diego County Water Authority's (CWA) spent approximately $2 million to study the feasibility of a plan to build a Regional Conveyance System (RCS) to transport water from the Colorado River to San Diego via a pipeline with a diameter of 14 feet that would run through Borrego Springs and require "[a] massive pumping station be constructed in the vicinity of Tubb and Glorietta Canyons. "Proponents of the project told the CWA Board that "Borrego Springs enthusiastically supports this project and sees it as the solution to their water problems 'despite the fact that there has been no public discussion of the project in'" in Borrego Springs. The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy requested that BWD send a letter to CWA clarifying the District's position on the project. At a BWD board meeting on August 11, Jack McGory, owner of La Casa Del Zorro and 1,500 acres of land in the Borrego Valley, and representatives of Rams Hill supported the project. After the board meeting, Kathy Dice, President of the BWD board sent a letter to the CWA stating that BWD has insufficient information about the project to either support or oppose it and suggested that a proposal to store Colorado River water in the Borrego aquifer raised a number of critical concerns including groundwater contamination and "unknown, unquantified risks to the structural integrity of our aquifer." On August 27, the CWA met to determine if they would spend an additional $1.3 million on Phase B of the plan to hone the details of the preferred pipeline route through/under the ABDSP and Borrego Springs. Despite the Chairman's highly unusual motion that the study be funded immediately and without discussion "public comment ensued" during which eight of nine speakers opposed the project on grounds that:
"The one public speaker offering support of the Chairman's motion [that the study be funded immediately and without discussion] was the Chairman's friend, Jack McGory [owner of La Casa del Zorro], whom... [CWA]staff repeatedly referred to as representing Borrego."
After two hours of discussion there was not a majority in favor of authorizing an additional $1.3 million for Phase B of the study and the CWA board authorized $200K for CWA to 'reach out' to organizations and individuals concerned about spending money to continue it.
This is the ninth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
At their 27 August meeting the Borrego Springs Interim WaterMaster Board discussed moving to regularly scheduled monthly meetings and enacting rules that will align the Board's actions with provisions of the Stipulation Agreement so that once the court formally establishes the WMB, the Board can reaffirm all its prior actions. Counsel Markman suggested a number of specific actions and the Board voted to put them on the next agenda. ED Adams introduced guidelines for verification of meter installation and certification.
There was a lengthy discussion about meter readings resulting in general agreement that having BWD do the first reading with provision to ensure that BWD's reading of its own meters would be impartial was the simplest and cheapest option. The Board directed staff to work with BWD for the initial meter read and to work on right of entry permits.
The board did not vote on a request to provide a letter of support for the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council's application for a grant to fund a broad and inclusive community-wide discussion about a vision for Borrego's future. Director smith thought this was outside the focus of WMB and Director Bennett said he would have to know more to ensure against conflicts of interest.
Four letters. One about water.
"Water Rights vs. Water Wrongs," letter from Bill Bancroft, Borrego Springs, CA
A letter complaining about the "lack of logic and reason foisted on the public by the [Sustainable Groundwater Management Act] SGMA and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) regarding the Borrego Air Ranch." Specifically, Bancroft takes umbrage at the inclusion of the Air Ranch in the SGMA mandated 70% reduction in water use over the next 20 years because he does not believe that it overlies the Borrego Basin and anyway the water table there "has not dropped a single inch" over 10 years, which he takes as "material, documented, unmitigated and reproducible" and "pure scientific evidence" of his claim. He is also concerned that the 26 homes in the Air Ranch which share water from two wells are not each treated as a de minimus users which would obviate the 70% reduction requirement, an "obvious and unfounded over-reach by the perpetrators of the SGMA and the DWR" according to Bancroft.
At their meeting on August 25, the BWD board received a presentation on an inspection of the District's solar facilities and electrical usage that included suggestions for improving efficiency that could save 15 to 20 percent in energy costs.
This is the eigth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
Samantha Adams, Vice-President and Principal Scientist II of Wildermuth Environmental will be the Executive Director (ED) for the WMB. Andy Malone, Principal Geologist, Vice-President and Partner of Wildermuth Environmental, will be WMB's Technical Consultant. Jim Bennett, the County's representative to the WMB, praised Wildermuth as a "seasoned leader in administrative and technical water services in many other basins" and described them as individuals who take "great care in working with stakeholders, in listening, hearing, and have a desire to clearly communicate and try to develop mutual understanding around the technical aspects of their work."
Director Smith noted that the first meter reading was only 48 days off and a discussion of a plan for reading meters and meter reading services followed. Martha Deichler suggested supporting locals and saving money by training and hiring community members to read meters rather than paying consultants to drive to Borrego. A meter reading plan would have to provide for payment by individual pumpers for their meter readings. Recreation Alternate Pinel suggested that a service fee might be more efficient than trying to determine the cost of each individual meter reading. The board directed ED Adams to bring a proposal to the next meeting that addresses these factors and a draft of "meter third-party certification" form that pumpers can use to show that their meter readings are accurate. The last item discussed was the "Right of Entry form/permit" that must be executed prior to the first meter reading. The ED will prepare a form/permit to be considered at the next meeting.
Five letters. None specifically about water.
"The BSR Back Story, Part Two," "Water Rights vs. Water Wrongs," p. 6 CA, p. 6
(Editorial Comment: While this letter is not specifically "about water," it starkly illustrates what the lack of intelligent, realistic, and assertive land use planning and groundwater management brings about in area, such as Borrego Springs, where planning, groundwater management, and water have always been scarce. Not a pretty picture.)
In October 2019, Borrego Springs Resort abruptly closed and stopped maintaining and irrigating the golf courses at the Resort and Club Circle. Gramoy's first letter ("Part One")describes the present condition of the courses after having been closed for one year. This letter recounts the developmental history of the Borrego Springs Resort from the time the Cameron Brothers started work on the project in the early 1990s to date.
At the 11 August BWD board meeting the General Manager and the District Engineer presented a proposed update to the already approved 2021-29 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The update was prompted by a recent cost of service (COS) study done by the District's municipal and financial advisors as a first step in the rate-setting process for water and sewer services over the next five years and the Prop 218 requirement that BWD base its rates on a calculation of its expenses and revenues.
Two additional projects are recommended for inclusion in the CIP:
Both of these are part of a comprehensive pipeline replacement project to improve water service reliability in the District.
Five letters. None specifically about water."Plea to BSR, Part One," letter from Beth Gramoy, Borrego Springs, CA, p. 6
(Editorial Comment: While this letter is not specifically "about water," it starkly illustrates what the lack of intelligent, realistic, and assertive land use planning and groundwater management brings about in area, such as Borrego Springs, where water is scarce. Not a pretty picture.)
In October 2019, Borrego Springs Resort abruptly closed and stopped maintaining and irrigating the golf courses at the Resort and Club Circle. Several attempts to sell the course have failed and the result has been a proliferation of exotic plants, dead or dying trees, and blowing dust. Complaints to local, county, and state agencies and organizations have yielded no results. Without at least basic maintenance and a plan to return the courses to their natural state or convert them to desert courses, they will remain a blight on the land and a fire hazard.
This is the seventh in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
The 30 July WMB meeting was the first with newly hired attorney Jim Markham in attendance. Rebecca Falk explained her letter to the WMB requesting that the WMB make public the name of the firm they intended to hire as Executive Director/Technical Consultant prior to negotiating a contract with the firm selected.
BWD representative Director Dave Duncan requested an agenda item to discuss each Director's ability to relay information about matters discussed in closed session to their constituents. WMB attorney Jim Markham said there are no exceptions in the Brown Act to the confidentiality imposed on closed session meetings, i.e. "nothing comes out of a closed meeting." Martha Deichler requested an item on the next agenda to discuss whether Alternate Directors can attend WMB closed sessions.
The meeting then went into closed session and when the public session reconvened the WMB Attorney announced that there had been a unanimous vote to prepare an agreement to hire the Wildermuth Group as WMB's Executive Director/Technical Consultant.
Director Smith presented a proposal that was immediately unanimously adopted to ensure that meter reading would begin on 30 September. Six pumpers have meters that can be read remotely, thirty-nine meters will have to be read manually. The owners of ninety per cent of the latter have already executed entry agreements to allow access to their meters. Once appointed, the WMB Executive Director will arrange for meter reading services and ask the Technical Advisory Committee to recommend rules for meter reading and data collection to the WMB.
Director Duncan suggested that third party certification of well meters as soon as possible is important. Director Bennett, the County Hydrologist, commented that "having meters read on all water being pumped is a big milestone" and agreed that calibration to assure meter readings are accurate is necessary. Director Duncan added that he assumed a beta test of the data gathering system before the agreed upon 30 September start date for meter reading was possible.
BWD has indicated that there are no outstanding issues with respect to water credits issued in the past. The Stipulated Agreement requirement that restricted covenants be recorded on all fallowed land before the water allocation can be used was brought up and will be reviewed. Three attorneys present agreed that the covenants must be recorded before the WMB converts them to water allocations.
Two letters. None about water.
BWD Director Ray Delahay,who has served on the BWD board for 11 years, has announced that he will not seek re-election in November. BWD is seeking candidates to fill the vacancy.
Three letters. None about water.
This is the sixth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. It is a report on the Watermaster Board Meeting on 25 June, which for the first time had five members in attendance following the County's appointment of Jim Bennett, County Water Resources Manager, as its representative. The majority of the meeting consisted of a closed session in which interviews for the position of Executive Director/Technical Consultant were held.
In the public portion of the meeting the Board voted to accept some of the revisions to a possible External Communications policy that had been proposed at the WMB meeting in May.
BWD's Attorney recommended that the contract proposed by the WMB legal counsel, James Markman and team of Richards, Watson, & Gershom chosen by the WMB in closed session, be changed to state that the WMB legal counsel would not represent the WMB in the adjudication because each of the individual parties to the Stipulated Agreement will be represented by their own legal counsel.
Falk asked BWD's Attorney if Mark Jorgensen, Community Representative to the WMB, could consult with WMB legal counsel on matters pertaining to the adjudication since he is the only WMB Director who does not have his own legal counsel. The answer was that he could, but any costs would have to be approved by WMB.
Prior to a vote to approve WMB's choice for legal counsel made in closed session, WMB Directors Duncan, Smith, and Jorgensen offered comments on the closed session discussion resulting in that choice. They stressed that Markman was "the clear choice," "the clear front-runner," and that "there wasn't much dialogue about a distant second." The vote was four in favor of approval with Jim Bennett abstaining because he was not party to discussions leading up to Markman's nomination. Falk commented that had the pubic been informed prior to the meeting that Markman was the final choice of the WMB she would have asked how he viewed his responsibility to the residents and business owners of Borrego Springs in light of his position as legal counsel to WMB since the public has a great interest in the management of the basin and expressed the hope that the citizenry "will learn about this over time."
The last item on the agenda involved meter reading options. A number of meters (presumably agriculture and golf course) will need to be manually read and Director Smith proposed that BWD be asked to read them under supervision of WMB. The Board voted to issue a Request for Proposal to BWD for the service.
On 28 April, a first draft of BWD's 2020-21 budget was presented to the BWD board and some changes were proposed. A second draft that incorporated comments from the previous meeting and new information regarding the Capital Improvement Plan was reviewed at the board meeting on 12 May. On 26 May the draft budget was again before the board with no changes. At the 9 June meeting the budget and Capital Improvement Plan were finally adopted. No rate increases were included in the 2020-21 budget because of COVID related hardships. The issue will be revisited in September and if rate increases are approved they would not become effective until January 2021.
Four letters. None about water.
BWD's grant consultant, Rick Alexander, updated the BWD board on the status of active and pending grant applications. A couple of grant opportunities for Coyote Creek watershed acquisition and restoration should be available this fall through the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Watershed Coordinator Program.
BWD's General Manager reported that District staff had taken over the BWD well monitoring program. Staff is also focusing on well locations, including the possibility of re-purposing improperly abandoned wells.
This is the fifth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
The 11 June meeting was a closed session (not open to the public) to appoint a Legal Counsel and Executive Director/Technical Consultant. Rebecca Falk submitted a letter to the WMB repeating a suggestion she made at the 28 May Board meeting, i.e. to include the public in WMB deliberations regarding the appointments prior to taking a final decision to learn how the candidates interacted with the public and emphasize the importance of their participation in the selection process, She received no response to her suggestion.
At their 3 June meeting the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, contrary to the advice of the County Council and County Staff, voted unanimously to allow the County Water Resources Manager to fill the seat on the WMB allotted to the County. Previously it was widely understood that the County would not fill the seat but have the County Hydrologist serve on the Technical Advisory Committee for the WMB and attend WMB meetings as a member of the public per County Staff recommendations. The WMB needed a fifth member to avoid tie votes, offer the County's expertise, and affirm that County land use authority extends to water use issues. Fifth District County Supervisor Jim Desmond argued that the County has a history of failing to act on knowledge that the Borrego Basin was being overdrafted and moved that the County Water Resources Manager, Jim Bennett, fill the County's seat on the WMB. With Bennett's appointment the WMB will be closer to functioning as envisioned in the Stipulated Agreement among pumpers. Still missing, however is the oversight of the judge who will oversee it.
Falk concludes her report by urging members of the public to attend WMB meetings because "it isn't really possible for a small group, the WMB, to make all the best decisions without some other perspectives being heard." It is therefore important for a small governing body like the WMB to hear from its constituents and equally important for constituents to monitor the actions of the WMB.
Six letters. None about water.
County staff recommended to the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors that the County not participate in the Borrego Basin WaterMaster Board (WMB) as anticipated in the Stipulated Agreement reached by pumpers in the Borrego Valley. BWD then responded in a letter to the County Board urging that the County participate in the WMB because the County's responsibilities for land use matters, including well permitting and abandonment, are important factors in issues that must be addressed by the WMB in complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Subsequently the Board of Supervisors accepted the County's seat on the WMB to be filled by the County Groundwater Geologist.
This is the fourth in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. It is a report on the fifth Watermaster Board Meeting
Four firms responded to the WaterMaster Board's (WMB) notice that it was seeking an Executive Director and Technical Consultant. Their submissions, like those received from nine firms that responded to the notice for Counsel to the board, will be discussed in closed sessions and the final selection will occur in a public meeting.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) public comment period on the Stipulated Agreement closed May 15 and yielded five responses. Comments were submitted by DWR, Tubb Canyon Conservancy, Rebecca Falk, the Air Ranch, and the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). DWR will review all comments to ensure compatibility with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that mandates sustainable water use.
The CDFW response identified a number of areas where the Stipulated Agreement may fail to satisfy requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Most fundamentally, it questions whether the aquifer's sustainable yield, which determines sustainability, is as high as estimated in the Stipulated Agreement because "the use of long term data can skew the results."
In addition, the response recommends:
The first full year of reporting well meter data from newly installed, calibrated, or updated flow meters on all pumpers' wells starts 1 October and WMB director Dave Duncan pointed out that a beta test of some months duration is required to validate all elements of the data collection/reporting system before the data collection year begins. Director Mike Seeley, who represents agriculture on the WMB, is working to ensure that the well meters are ready.
Six letters. None about water.
BWD has instituted on-line bill paying in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Customers can pay via credit card or direct withdrawal from a bank account. There is a 2.75% transaction charge plus an additional one dollar charge for direct withdrawal. The service maybe used for a one-time payment or set up to continue monthly.
This is the third in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings.
Nine firms responded to the board's call for applicants for a WMB attorney. Applicant interviews will be held in closed session to prevent any of the competing firms from gaining an advantage in the process by obtaining knowledge of interviews with other firms. All pumpers who were signatories to the Stipulated Judgment as well as WMB board members and their alternates will be able to view applications and BWD representative Dave Duncan asked that they also be made available to the BWD board in closed session but no decision was taken.
An External Communications policy proposed by Director Shannon Smith (Recreation) would limit all media inquiries to the Executive Director (WaterMaster?), prohibit WMB members from giving interviews or having other external communications using their titles, and require that they specify they do not speak for the WMB when making comments. Community Representative Mark Jorgensen pointed out that the Borrego Sun and other media sources are likely to ask board members for information precisely because of their positions.
The WMB received a report on invoices for the cost of work already done on the Groundwater Management Plan sent to signatories to the Stipulation Judgment . Each pumper will be assessed a portion of the total cost determined by their Baseline Pumping Allocation. De Anza Golf Estates has not responded to its invoice but is not a signatory to the Stipulated Judgment and has chosen not to participate in the WMB thus far. The expectation is that all pumpers will participate once a judge affirms the groundwater management plan.
A report on the status of water meter installations indicated that all pumpers are likely to have flow meters operational before the end of May. A discussion about beginning to collect pumping data before the first full water pumping data collection year begins on 1 October 2020 led to a suggestion that the period between full meter installation and 1 October be used to ensure that all meters are transmitting accurate data to the central depository and the system is reliable before data collection for the first year of water reductions begins.
Six letters. None about water.
BWD will replace three of its major reservoirs: the Twin Tanks at the bottom of Montezuma Valley Road, and reservoirs at Indian Head and Rams Hill. The projects have been included in the District's Capital Improvement Plan but delayed by efforts to obtain grant funding and site selection.
This is the second in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. There have been no meetings since April 16, so this report is based on email conversations with Mike Seley who represents Agricultural interests and Mark Jorgensen, who represents Borrego Springs Community interests on the WaterMaster Board.
Seley avers that 100% of farmers are working on water meter installation and making good progress. The number of installed meters, however, has not changed since the end of March, i. e. only seven of eleven farmers are in compliance. Seley attributes the delay to farmers upgrading their meters rather than just recalibrating existing older models and expects all farmers will have meters installed by end of May, two months after the deadline set by the stipulation document. In response to a question about farmers who may be thinking of selling their water credits and leaving the valley versus continuing to farm, Seley disclaimed knowledge but commented that he had "not seen a public program that sets a price for water that they can consider." He concluded the interview by stating that "Seley Ranches intends to remain."
Mark Jorgensen stated that he expected "strong advocacy for agriculture and recreational interests" on the WMB and respected their representatives. Based on the first two meetings of the WMB Jorgensen said he sensed mutual respect among the parties and a willingness to meet the goals of the judicial mandate, but expected "challenges to the legal demands that pumpers scale back their [water] consumption dramatically." He promised to "speak out strongly to assure the community retains sufficient water" for its needs. In response to a question about the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that is mentioned but not fleshed out in the stipulation document, Jorgensen acknowledged that the EWG 'gets a brush-over in the Stipulated Agreement, but hopefully we can give it a higher profile in implementation.' Jorgensen concluded by commenting on the seeming "sincere dedication" of all WMB members to making sustainability successful, but added: "We shall see as the plan progresses."
Three letters. None about water.
Three letters. None about water.
This appears to be the first in a proposed series of "monthly reports" by Rebecca Falk, who is Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and represented the Group on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee. The reports are intended to keep Borregans informed about what occurs in Watermaster Board (WMB) Meetings. The WMB "is a small group of people who will be managing [the Borrego] basin under the sustainable groundwater use plan (Stipulated Judgment) for Borrego Springs. under the jurisdiction of the state superior court system." Due to the Covid-19 shutdown, however, it is uncertain when the judge, who is based in Orange County, will be actively involved and authorize the WMB. In the meanwhile the Board will function as an Interim Board and rely on administrative support from BWD and lawyers until an Executive Director and attorney are hired.
At a WMB meeting on 31 March a lawyer representing agriculture disclosed that four farmers had not yet met the deadline for installation of water meters to monitor groundwater extraction and asked for an extension of the deadline to which the board agreed.
Funding for the WMB is provided by Baseline Pumping Allocation (BPA) Fees collected from pumpers, but until the Court blesses the BPAs the fees can only be collected if pumpers voluntarily agree to pay them. BWD has agreed to pay its fees in advance to help the WMB get started and has appealed to other pumpers to do the same, but no other pumpers have agreed to do so.
There is still only one public comment on the Department of Water Resources web page for the Borrego Valley Stipulated Judgment and the comment period was extended to May 15.
Nonetheless, Falk ends the piece with this sanguine statement: "The Watermaster Board aims to work collaboratively and with camaraderie for the benefit of all Borregans in keeping our water supply adequate and safe into the future. Public participation in these WM Board Meetings can help this goal happen in a way that works for all of us."
Outlines measures BWD is taking in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the usual and expected precautions, BWD, along with other water agencies, has sent a letter to the Federal Government urging financial assistance for such agencies to offset revenue loss during the pandemic resulting from some customers inability to pay their bills.
On March 31 the WaterMaster Board (WMB) held its first meeting online to maintain social distancing. It lasted more than three hours. "The discussions were amicable and informative, and the WMB managed to vote unanimously on several key issues." BWD General Manager Geoff Poole led the discussions and BWD's attorney addressed procedural questions. Two other attorneys representing the agricultural and recreation sectors were also present. WMB will eventually hire its own counsel. Only four of five authorized members of the WMB board were present. The County of San Diego has not yet decided to participate and was not represented, but efforts to persuade the County to decide are ongoing.
The first item on the agenda was: What issues require a super majority to formally adopt a decision. Appointing WMB staff members is one of the latter. Next the board addressed how to formally ratify their first work product: the completed Department of Water Resources (DWR) Annual Report prepared by BWD consultant Dudek, Inc. which detailed the Borrego Sub-basin's past and current groundwater situation and provided compliance guidelines for metering and monitoring. Agricultural Representative Seley found a discrepancy in how some of the numbers were presented in the report and adjustments were approved unanimously as was a minor revision to approval of well pump meters.
"The Report itself is remarkable in both scope and detail, presenting data and analysis of both what led up to our 'severely overdrafted aquifer' and what to do about it over the next 20 years." One graphic in the Report shows groundwater extraction in the sub-basin by economic sector (Agriculture, Recreation, and Municipal). "It's pretty clear who's using most of the water." Another graphic shows that groundwater elevations at the same monitoring wells over five years (2015 - 2019) fell by 6.74 feet. Taken together these data demonstrate that management of the aquifer by "technical means" (metering and monitoring) is critical to understanding the groundwater situation and how best to allocate water among the three economic sectors. In that regard, Seley reported that 7 of 11 major pumpers have already installed meters and the remaining four "are well on their way to compliance."
The WaterMaster Board of Directors approved the search for legal counsel by unanimous vote. The chosen counsel will be responsible for a wide range of duties to ensure compliance with regulations laid out in a complex web of documents governing policies, programs, and actions (including enforcement) covering over 90% of the major pumpers of Borrego Valley."
Three letters. None about water.
Among many items considered at the WMB's March 31 meeting was the appointment of an Executive Director, Legal Counsel, and Technical Consultant for Borrego Basin. Counsels for recreation and agriculture explained that some boards retain a single individual as Executive Director/Technical Consultant, typically an engineer who also handles administrative work. The board decided to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) asking those responding to describe the ideal staffing solution. McGlothlin, attorney for recreation, provided a draft RFP for selection of a legal counsel that was unanimously approved after minor amendments.
The BWD board meeting for March was conducted online. The District will suspend cutoffs and late fees for those experiencing financial hardship until June 1. All discussions and decisions relating to rate increases will be delayed until fall.
One letter. None about water.
The meeting on March 31 was facilitated by BWD's General Manager and Legal Counsel since there is as yet no Water Master or Legal Counsel for the Water Master Agency. Once selected, the Watermaster Executive Director and Legal Counsel will run the Organization and report directly to the Watermaster Board. There was discussion of forming a Technical Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the staff and board. Manufacturers of flow meters that can be used to comply with the requirement that all non-de-minimus production wells were identified.
The first Interim Watermaster Board meeting was held via the Internet on March 31. Because of equipment problems or operator error some could only watch and listen. "There will be a learning curve." The meeting lasted a mere 40 minutes not including the closed session. See also "BWD Suspends Water Cutoffs, Late Payments" above.
Three letters. None about water.
BWD staff is working on a draft Risk Management Policy and Procedures to include air quiality, flood control, and groundwater sampling and water quality monitoring. The groundwater elevations and water quality monitoring program is being increased to semi-annual sampling for BWD wells, and may include private wells with owners' permission.
At the Community Sponsor Group meetilng on March 5th "There was some alarm at the proposal to transport what amounts to 350k gallons of wastewater/effluent per day to the landfill. More info should be provided later."
The annual BWD Town Hall Meeting will be on 17 March at 5:30 p.m. in the Library. The draft agenda includes: 2019 operational accomplishments and capital improvement projects, District finances, grant funding efforts, Proposition 218 rate setting process, and a Stipulated Judgment update.
The first meeting of the Borrego Springs Basin WaterMaster Board, which has responsibility for implementing the recently approved Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment that was signed by 92.4% of basin pumpers, is tentatively scheduled for 31 March and is the first step in getting the Board up and running. The Board comprises representatives of Municipal, Agricultural, and Recreational (golf) pumpers, plus a Community Representative and the County of San Diego should they decide to participate. The Board is expected to put hiring an Executive Director, Attorney and Support Staff near the top of it's to-do list.
In a public forum the BWD board unanimously appointed Mark Jorgensen Community Representative to the Borrego Basin Water Master Board and Martha Deichler as alternate. Jorgensen said he thought the "selection process ended up being very fair, and it reflected the will of the people in the community." The Sun article opined that "Borrego is indeed fortunate to have the right man at the right time for the job of representing an entire community."
One letter, none about water
At the BWD board meeting on 11 February, BWD's General Manager delivered good news regarding the District's investments in solar energy systems that have resulted in approximately $185,000 saved since 2016.
BWD completed all of the required filings for the Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment prior to the 31 January 2020 deadline. More than 92% of pumpers signed the documents. "Pumping reductions will be front end loaded to ensure 50% of the required. reductions will occur within the next 10 years" and flow meters will be required for all large pumpers in March 2020. Borrego Springs is the only "Critically Overdrafted" Basin in California using the Water Master Board framework.[Editorial comment:It remains a puzzle how reducing water use by half during the first half of the implementation period should count as "front loading," but that is the claim.]
Three letters, none about water
(DISCLAIMER: This is a badly written and apparently unedited article much of which, as a result, makes little or no sense. Little wonder there is no byline. For what it's worth, here is a summary.)
Highlights of the BWD board meeting on 28 January.
- The high school is paying $10K/mo. for irrigation but the cost will soon be reduced by switching to solar power for the well pumps. (No mention of reducing the amount of irrigation water used each month however.)
- "Next on the agenda was to rewrite a description of the duties and responsibilities of the BWD's rep to the Water Master Board and that of the Community Member..." (Not clear from the article whether they actually did that or not.)
- Former San Diego County of San Diego Hydrologist, John Peterson gave a presentation on how to acquire the best data on water quality and aquifer level from the 31 existing monitoring wells: "Get the cheap data first. and fill the gaps in the system." Peterson was referring to data expected to be supplied by pumpers on a swath of land from Coyote Creek to the Borrego Sink that currently has few if any monitoring wells.
- Rick Alexander is seeking grants "for various projects" prominent among which is dealing with 108 'inactive' and probably abandoned wells in the Valley identified by BWD that are "not properly destroyed and capped" and pose "a potential danger to public health." Property owners are reluctant to spend the large sums of money required to properly destroy/cap an inactive well, so there is considerable financial risk to BWD and the County from potential law suits over contamination of groundwater from inactive or abandoned wells. BWD has identified the inactive/abandoned wells and both BWD and the County may have to bear some of the costs of destroying and capping them.
- A paragraph that makes absolutely no sense. Remarkable even for this feeble effort.
- BWD pumped 1,500 acre feet of water in 2019. That was a reduction from the previous year attributed to conservation efforts, but resulted in a loss of revenue to the District from water sales.
- Eighty-seven percent of pumpers have now joined the Stipulated Agreement. That is close to the goal of ninety percent set by BWD.
The proposed Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Judgment for the Borrego Springs sub Basin were filed with the California Department of Water Resources and the Superior Court of San Diego County on 31 January 2020. Over 92% of Basin pumpers signed the documents. The rest of the short article briefly recaps the history of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan/Groundwater Management Plan development leading to a Stipulated Agreement among pumpers.
A piece by John Peterson, former San Diego County Hydrologist, addressing the fact that California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act fails to address "the thorny issue of California water rights," thereby casting 'a cloud of uncertainty over future groundwater rights and supplies.' In parallel with the public process of developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (SGMA) there was a separate confidential process involving discussions among the major groundwater extractors in the basin (agriculture and recreation (golf)) led by BWD. The latter led to an agreement among the parties to decrease groundwater extractions by 75%. "This agreement is enforceable and... addresses the legal enforcement of water rights within the basin." It is Peterson's opinion that a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, such as is called for by SGMA, "would not have solved our problem due to the limitations of determining water allocation and water rights" whereas the Stipuilated Agreement arrived at via the confidential process will result in a Stipulated Judgment that is enforceable and "can finally make a difference in solving our groundwater overdraft."
John Peterson, former San Diego County Hydrologist, and Jay Jones, of Environmental Navigation Services, Inc. presented an update on water quality and groundwater elevation monitoring at the BWD board meeting on January 28. The frequency of sampling has been increased and they continue to look for new wells to augment the 31 presently monitored. Peterson argued that more information is needed especially about existing contaminants and "Jones pointed out that the Groundwater Management Plan identifies data gaps, such as how water quality changes with depth." BWD's General Manager "explained that the investigation team is hoping to obtain permission from well owners in the unrepresented areas to take samples from their production wells" rather than drilling new monitoring wells, but monitoring "will definitely continue." In summary, Peterson said: "The question is not when we will run out of water, but when we will run out of cheap water."
Three letters, none about water
Borrego Water District General Manager Geoff Poole and attorney Steve Anderson summarized the comments and responses to the Stipulated Agreement (Stip), many of which were related to "the way in which the Water Master Board (WMB) would be formed and utilized during the 20 year implementation period," before the board gave unanimous approval to execute the settlement agreement. "This is the first time in 45 years we have the ability to take action," Anderson said. "About 75% of all pumpers are covered by the Stip, but [Anderson] said he is trying for 90% or above." The names of parties to the Stip will be made public along with those of the 'stragglers' who did not agree to participate in the settlement in hopes of encouraging the latter to participate. There is, however, little or no likelihood of further changes to the Stip to accommodate them. "One issue settled by the Stip was 'parties in disagreement' on the WMB. The Community Representative can now appeal any decision made and use the legal resources provided to the WMB to do so."
At its 14 January meeting the BWD board unanimously elected Director Dave Duncan as BWD representative on the Water Master Board and Director Kathy Dice as alternate. A nominating committee comprising GSP Advisory Committee members representing BWD, the State Park, the Stewardship Council, and the School District selected four candidates: Martha Deichler, Rebecca Falk, Bri Fordem and Mark Jorgensen. Originally the selection was to be made by WMB members representing BWD, agriculture, and recreation but, based on comments received on the Stipulated Judgement, the procedure was changed so that the appointment would be made by the BWD board.
An agreement reached among parties negotiating the Stipulated Agreement designated the BWD board as the body that will select the Community Member of the Water Master Board (WMB) based on background, qualifications, and interviews with candidates at a public hearing. The appointment of a community member to the WMB was mentioned frequently in the public comments received on the draft Stipulated Agreement.
The last paragraph of the editorial concerns water: "It seems that the Water Management Agreement (now GMP), is in its final form. Let's hope that after all the effort put into its creation it succeeds in serving its purpose. Time will tell."(Editorial comment: Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the product of five years work.)
Two letters, one about water
"Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant", p. 7
Rebecca Falk, Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, represented the Group on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee. In an op-ed she warns against surrendering Borrego Springs' future "to a handful of people or corporations who have been overpumping our water," but it appears that ship has long-since sailed. (For the full text of this letter click here.)
Public comments on the Stipulated Judgment "included many... on the selection of the Community Member who will sit on the Water Master Board" to represent the community at large on various water related issues. The BWD board will make the selection in a public meeting after interviewing candidates and providing an opportunity for the public to ask questions of them. The article also addresses, without explicitly acknowledging or resolving, another serious concern that has been raised about the proposed Stipulated Judgment, i.e. that the Community Member of the Water Master Board (WMB) will be the only member of the WMB without funds to hire legal or other experts to advise and assist them in disputing a decision of the WMB. It simply asserts without preamble or elaboration that "The Stipulated Agreement was structured to include the right for the Community Member to consult with the Board's legal council and register an appeal if warranted."
During the public comment period for the Stipulated Agreement thirteen individuals or entities submitted comments. Many of those doing so addressed multiple aspects of the Stipulated Agreement. The Borrego Sun unpacked the thirty-seven specific comments and grouped them into six categories:
Eight of the seventeen specific comments in the Governence category addressed "selection processselection of the WMB Community Member and the Stipulated Judgment was revised accordingly to take into account the expressed concerns: "The BWD Board will make the selection of the WMB Community [Member?] after local organizations provide a slate of candidates and a public forum is held by the BWD."
A second comment in the Governance category asking for assurance that a minority of members could not make WM Board decisions resulted in revision of the Stipulated Judgment "to require at least three affirmative votes on all matters not requiring a super-majority."
A comment in the Miscellaneous category asking for exemption of water used for firefighting and other natural disasters [from regulation by the Stipulated Judgment?] prompted a revision of the Stipulated Judgment.
An incomprehensible comment in the Water Rights/Legal Process category from the Borrego Springs Unified School District concerning "[t]he amount of water production requested to be non-reducible," also resulted in a revision of the Stipulated Judgment.
The remaining thirty-three were simply "acknowledged," "noted," or explained away including one suggesting that the WMB Community Member be provided with "a budget... and/or support equivalent to the staff and support other members [of the WMB] will have" mentioned in two comment letters. That comment did not result in revision of the Stipulated Judgment because "we [BWD board members] are not aware of any judgments that compel Watermaster funds to be collected and directed to support any particular sector. Each party is responsible for their own costs," i.e. you can't make us do it. That is the equivalent of deliberatly sending the Community Member into a hatchet fight without a hatchet.
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