Digger - 30 December 2014
Highlights of articles about or related to groundwater in the Borrego Valley of California and efforts to manage it.
This is a long article recounting an "informational briefing" that BWD Director Lyle Brecht presented to the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group on 12/04/2014. According to Brecht, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) contributed $150,000 for "professional facilitation and economic work that enabled the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC) to establish economically attractive alternatives for addressing the overdraft" of which "fallowing agricultural land is by far the most attractive." Preparation of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to curtail groundwater use, as required by the new California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, (SGMA)is expected to cost an additional $1.5 mil., to be shared among pumpers on a pro rata basis, but no one knows who will pay the additional and very substantial costs of implementing the plan.
Brecht restated his long held, often stated, but unfounded opinion that a plan to bring the basin into balance is required before going to adjudication and his futile attempt to sort the differences among "agreement," "policy," and "recommendations," in answer to a question about the relation between the BWC's recommendations and BWD's GSP quickly dissolved into a murky puddle of double-speak that clarified nothing and left the question unanswered.
Speaking from the audience, Borrego resident and water activist Ray Shindler pointed out that fallowing agricultural land is seen as the most attractive option by pumpers because they assume and demand that they be bought out at grossly inflated prices, but no one knows how this platinum retirement package for pumpers can be paid for. BWD has authority to "regulate, limit, or suspend pumping," Shindler said, and should exercise it forthwith as a first step in controlling the overdraft. The board refuses to even consider this option, however, for fear of alienating the pumpers and destroying the carefully crafted illusion of consensus among BWC members created by keeping their meetings secret and spinning what little information does escape the veil of secrecy like a top.
In all the presentation raised far more questions than it answered and should also have raised alarm - if anyone was paying attention.
At the BWD board meeting on 11/19/2014, new BWD Director Joe Tatsuko requested a meeting with the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC), BWD board, and "possibly some stakeholders, so everyone interested can participate and ask questions." Beth Hart said the BWD board wanted to start holding a series of meetings with the public soon after the first of the year to discuss BWC's Recommendations offering at least a glimmer of hope that the secrecy in which the BWC's machinations have been cloaked to date may be lifted - however slightly.
Lyle Brecht addressed what had all the earmarks of a clumsily planted question to BWC member Kathy Dice about whether elements of a plan might be implemented earlier than "the last dates required" by State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). In a scripted response, doubtless intended to blunt charges that the not-later-than dates for action to reduce the overdraft were much too far out, Ms. Dice "admitted it didn't seem reasonable to wait" until the state mandated deadlines to implement elements of a plan and that "[a]s soon as we get the regs from the state we can begin." But, in fact, Dice's carefully worded response promises nothing with respect to implementation and the qualifier itself, i.e. receipt of "regs from the state," will delay implementation indefinitely while action is urgently needed now.
Over the initial objections of BWD board president Beth Hart and vice-president Lyle Brecht, audience member Ray Shindler was finally "reluctantly allowed" three minutes to speak about the BWC Recommendations even though the first item of business on the agenda for the meeting was: "Discussion of Borrego Water Coalition Groundwater Sustainability Plan Policy Recommendations." Shindler suggested that the huge costs of BWC's solution of choice, purchasing and fallowing agricultural land, would have to be paid for either by current ratepayers or explosive development, neither of which would be popular with residents or in the community's best interest. He urged accelerated completion and implementation of a practical groundwater management plan that contained a realistic funding strategy.
Well#4 at Rams Hill will come on-line at end of Oct. It is the fourth of a total of five to be built, of which BWD owns (will own?) two. At full production, the five wells are expected to produce 850 af/yr "from an aquifer upslope from Borrego Valley sources." Bill Berkley expects (hopes?) to reduce demand to close to 500 af/yr within "just a few years," a 40% reduction from the 2014 year-end peak rate. Only time will tell whether this ambitious goal will actually be achieved or is even achievable.
At the BWD board meeting on 09.16.2014 Jan Naragon presented an update on the Groundwater Management stakeholder interviews she conducted to ascertain community values and visions purportedly in support of the District's groundwater management planning process. Respondents included an equal number of "people familiar with water issues and those who are not," who were asked questions about a laundry-list of issues unrelated to water. No surprise then that the interviews elicited no pertinent information with the single exception of an expressed concern about "increasing water bills" among "those not involved with water issues," for what that is worth. Although the presentation was entitled "One Bucket and Fifty Straws," a common representation of Borrego's overdrafted aquifer, it had nothing whatsoever to do with that pressing problem - or anything else of practical value. Moreover, the sample size is too small to be representative even if the questions had addressed the issue of primary importance, i.e., the overdraft. The article provides no information about who paid how much for the irrelevant study or Ms. Naragon's professional qualifications or affiliations.
BWD's groundwater management plan, which the survey allegedly supports, must be completed by 2022 to avoid a dreaded take-over by the State, but at least one BWD Director, some groundwater experts, and a number of individuals knowledgeable about the local groundwater situation believe that is far too long.
Brecht reported that DWR is interested in the BWD groundwater management plan as a model because the Borrego Basin "is so unique relative to many others." But if the Borrego Basin is in fact unique - let alone "so unique" - it would provide no guidance for others with which it, by definition, has nothing in common.
Finally, a semantic quibble between Directors Hart and Estep about "rates" v. "assessments" as a means of paying for implementation of a sustainable groundwater management plan suggests that board members are talking past one another as they flail about for a solution to the problem of managing the basin.
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