Digger - January 08, 2017
Highlights of articles about or related to groundwater in the Borrego Valley of California and efforts to manage it - or not.
Once again, there is nothing new here. Just another unnecessary rehash of the bureaucratic minutia of developing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan required by the State Groundwater Management Act of 2014. Like previous place-holders, it is intended to avoid an embarrassing quarter-page of white space where an update on progress should be. More than two years in and the principals are still talking about the shape of the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the 2020 deadline for having a plan in place ever nearer. Residents of Borrego should hope - but not expect - that the New Year will bring progress on this critical issue.
A bullish report on the Borrego Springs real estate market which is characterized as "moving along quite nicely" except that "[w]e are still seeing very little movement in deAnza and Rams Hill." Significantly, these are the two major golf course communities in the valley and their obvious lack of appeal reflects a dramatic national decline in the popularity of such residential developments and a wave of course closings. Only elevators ranked higher than golf courses on a list of new-home buyers' "most unwanted" features compiled by the National Association of Home Builders. A part of Borrego's water problem may therefore be self-liquidating so to speak.
Presents new evidence that rising temperatures and growing demand for food threatens groundwater supplies worldwide leaving 1.8 billion people without access to water. It cites new studies showing that California's major food producing areas could exhaust the groundwater on which they depend as soon as 2030. Adding further uncertainty, it quotes NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti who says "The problem is we don't know how much groundwater is left" and Thomas Harter, a hydrologist at UC Davis who, similarly, likens groundwater to "a black box that everybody dips into." Sounds like yet another argument for adopting the Precautionary Principleto govern decisions regarding groundwater management in the Borrego Valley and elsewhere.For the full-text of this article click here.
Bill Berkley, who only recently was appointed to the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, resigned.
As the title suggest, this article has nothing to do with water in Borrego Springs, but should be of interest to residents of Borrego in another respect. The author, Susanne Howarth, discloses in an aside that she has been "told off by more than one monied person in Borrego for telling the truth as they don't consider that 'good business practice.'" Although Howarth doesn't reveal it, what are the odds she was telling the truth about the local groundwater situation when she incurred the wrath of local fat cats?
Announces BWD's installation of new accounting and billing software that provides a graphic display of of a ratepayer's monthly water use for the previous 24 months to allow customers to better monitor their water use. The only possible connection between this development and groundwater sustainability rests on the slim possibility that ratepayers may actually use the additional information to reduce their water consumption. Just another case of reaching to fill the space allowed to this feature in each issue of the Borrego Sun.
The letter points out that instructions for landscape watering in the last iteration of the Groundwater Sustainability Update are "inappropriate" as they fail to account for significant seasonal variation in the water requirements of plants in the Borrego Valley. In addition to being trivial given the scale of Borrego's water problem, the advice offered was just plain wrong - not at all surprising for a piece that Michael Sadler had a hand in writing.
The title of this installment, "Landscape Watering: Check Your Irrigation System Timers," is identical to the one for the "Update" in the last edition of the paper (see above and below), and has nothing whatsoever to do with the text that follows it. Apparently it was too much trouble to change it. Irrespective of its misleading title, the article attempts to explain what "critical" means when used to modify "overdraft," i.e. "that the overdraft is now likely to result in expensive fixes. It is time to act now to eliminate the overdraft." Unfortunately, judging by their actions or, more appropriately, inaction, the Worthies at BWD don't seem to get it.
The Borrego Water District is receiving complaints from ratepayers alleging overcharging for residential water use. Most have been determined to be a result of excessive landscape watering. BWD advises homeowners to water for only five to ten minutes no more than three times a week. That this is the sum and substance of a bi-weekly report on progress toward sustainability in a critically overdrafted basin speaks volumes and conjures images of ice bergs and deck chairs.
A rehash of old news. The only things worthy of note:
Eric Larsen, Executive Director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, spoke in favor of the Memorandum of Understanding between BWD and San Diego County during the meeting of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors at which they approved the MOU that will initiate the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process. Larsen's blessing clearly signals the impotence of the GSP in agriculture's eyes.
Representatives of the County and BWD are reviewing the draft of a Request for Proposals from consultants interested in developing the GSP starting in March 2017.
A report on the BWD board meeting on of 18 October 2016. BWD's consulting engineer determined that if homes were built on all existing buildable lots in Borrego the water demand from all residences (including those now existing) would be approximately 3,750 acre feet per year. That would leave fewer than 2,000 acre feet per year of the 5,700 acre feet of safe yield from the aquifer for all other uses in the valley including golf courses and agriculture that currently use approximately 18,000 acre feet per year.
This well-researched and well-written article provides an accurate, non-technical description of the water crisis in Borrego Springs, California based on a series of interviews with individuals engaged in the struggle to resolve it.
It begins with a brief history of water use in the Borrego Valley that has led to a situation wherein if residents and business owners - including farmers - do not soon "completely reorient their economy and their way of life. they run the risk of having their tiny desert community return to dust." and goes on to describe four perspectives on the rapidly diminishing groundwater supply:
Although the article nominally represents four points of view regarding Borrego's water crisis, there are, in fact, only two: those who want to take immediate action to forestall disaster comprising the Activist, the Scientist, and the Ecologist, and those who want to continue business as usual until the Borrego Valley becomes an uninhabitable dust bowl - the Farmer. Not mentioned in the article are the golf courses in the Valley that use 20% of the water extracted each year and share the Farmer's business-as-usual point of view.
For the full-text of this article click here.
For well over sixty years pumpers in the Borrego Valley, including the Borrego Water District, operated as if there were no overdraft and groundwater was free, neither of which has ever been true. California's Sustainable Groundwater Act now requires that the overdraft of the Borrego Basin be eliminated not later than 2040 and that BWD have a state-approved plan in place not later than 2020 to achieve that goal by the deadline. All pumpers must cooperate in eliminating the overdraft and will be required to pay for groundwater they extract at rates that will rise over time in order to achieve both quantitative and qualitative sustainability. If the community shows "insignificant progress " toward the goal the State will take control of the basin and ensure that it is met, and, according to the authors of the update, "[n]obody wants that." The much derided "state takeover," however, may be the best and only solution to the overdraft in the Borrego Basin. It should not be dismissed prematurely.
Profiles two BWD directors who will take office on 25 November. Harry Ehrlich will serve the remainder of Lee Estep's term after Estep had to step down because of his health. Ray Delahay, a board member since 2011, was unopposed in the November 2016 election and automatically relected.
At their meeting on 19 October, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin that had already been accepted by the Borrego Water District. BWD rate payers and state agencies spent approximately $4 million over the last five years to establish technical requirements for the plan.
The Supervisors' action included a $500,000 appropriation to fund development of the Plan during 2016-17. The funds will be used to hire a consultant to finish developing requirements for the GSP and respond to Proposals from consultants for drafting it, among other things.
Historically pumpers in the Borrego Basin believed, and some still believe, that there is no cost for groundwater. Largely as a result of that fiction, the Basin has been in a critical state of overdraft for many years, The GSP will introduce practical limitations on groundwater use because under the GSP water in the basin will have a cost. When implemented, therefore, the GSP will change the economics of groundwater in the Basin to stabilize Borrego's depleted sole-source aquifer before it is too late. At least that's the hope.
Reports that San Diego county is about to enter an agreement with the Borrego Water District intended to solve "depletion" of the Borrego Valley Aquifer. The county will commit a total of $1.2 million to implementing the agreement that is required to satisfy requirements of California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The the long-standing practice of "sucking more water out of" Borrego's sole-source aquifer (about 6.1 billion gallons a year) than is replenished (about 1.8 billion gallons per year) resulting in an overdraft that is approximately 3.7 times the rate of recharge in recent years, must be reduced to no more than the "safe yield" or annual average rate of recharge in order to satisfy requirements of the SGMA. The safe yield of the Borrego Basin is only a bit more than one-quarter of the amount pumped today.
Borrego's plan will focus on reducing agriculture in the valley, which uses 70 - 80 per cent of all water pumped, by at least one-half. Even that, however, will not be enough to assure a stable groundwater level in the basin.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two parties has been approved by BWD and is expected to be approved by the County Board on 19 October.
This piece begins with Michael Sadler's usual misleading mantra: "we [Borregans] are not running out of water anytime soon." In a misguided and ineffectual effort to support this assertion the article claims that "we [Borregans] potentially have more available water per capita... than many cities and towns in CA." That's scarcely reassuring given the sorry water situation throughout the state.
The authors very quickly contradict themselves, however, when they observe that "the cost of water is increasing every year... due to the critical overdraft of the Borrego Basin," and assert that to avoid "sky-high increases forever... the overdraft must be eliminated, and soon." But "sky-high increases forever" will very shortly produce the same result as "running out of water." Once water costs rise high enough no one will be able to afford it. Once no one can afford it no one can get it. Once no one can get it Borrego is out of water. So there is no material difference between the two outcomes. In either case Borrego becomes a wasteland.
Unfortunately, because of a strong confirmation bias that afflicts far too many Borregans, most will stop reading after the first sentence of the article, having heard what they want to hear. The relative few who do persevere will take false assurance from the fact that water will simply cost more - which it will. But it will cost so much more as to be the functional equivalent of running out of water. The article thus unwittingly steps on its own message and gives readers a couple of welcome off-ramps from reality.
This article consists of "outlooks and projections" on the local real estate market from representatives of eight real estate agencies in the valley. As might be expected, all of these assessments but one are unfailingly positive. What else would you expect from those whose livelihood depends on selling property in Borrego. Who would invest in a place if the consensus of realtors there was that the market is going to hell in a hand-basket?
Only Rebecca Falk of Desert Way Realty had the temerity and integrity to acknowledge that "we have a number of issues to resolve in Borrego... on groundwater sustainability... for buyers to feel more confident." The take-away from this article is: if you are looking to buy or sell property in Borrego Springs and want an honest realtor, call Rebecca (760.331.7526).
Michael Sadler is at it again. His latest attempt at dysinformation avers that Borrego "has worked something of a miracle with regards to our water situation over the last few years. We are not in danger of running out of water anytime soon... and we will meet all state mandated goals between 2020 - 2040." He concludes with a prediction that Borrego will "have very nice golf courses for the foreseeable future" based on his authority as "a golfer and one who who has written extensively about our water issues and solutions." On the basis of these flimsy and arguable qualifications he suggests that the author of letter to the editor of the Sun who decided against buying property in Borrego because of the water situation was misinformed by "something she read that doesn't reflect [Borrego's] true situation." On the contrary, she was unusually well-informed and acted rationally while Sadler's reckless and unfounded claims that everything is hunky-dory are patently false and damaging to Borrego's future.
Sadler may actually be "a golfer," for what that's worth, but his sophomoric scribblings about groundwater in the Borrego Valley do nothing to establish him even as an a reliable source of information, much less an expert, on the topic. In fact, they betray him as nothing more than a shill for pumpers. If he is not on their payroll, he may be selling himself too cheaply.
Geoff Poole has only been BWD's General Manager since July but says he already understands that "the single most important issue for Borrego Springs is groundwater sustainability... and the stakes are incredibly high." He has experience in both the public and private sectors which he believes gives him a 'unique perspective... as we deal with the business and financial aspects associated with groundwater sustainability.' Since 1980, he has has held a wide variety of jobs at several water districts in San Diego county ranging from meter reader to general manager. In 2000, he left the public sector to work for a company "specializing in... in-home water treatment technologies" and holds a patent on a unique water treatment technology. He has degrees in water technology and finance, as well as an MBA. He is obviously well-qualified for his new job and is '100 per cent confident that... we can come up with a workable solution [to the groundwater issue] for all parties involved.'
This editorial by Michael Sadler announces that, starting on October 6, the Borrego Sun will run an article "in every issue detailing progress" toward a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin required by the State no later than 2020. As is his wont, Sadler is effusive in its praise of cooperation among user segments and various agencies thus far, but that will likely prove to be premature and grossly exaggerated when it is time to stop dancing around the difficult issues and fish or cut bait. The Sun promises to make "even problems or conflicts. transparent for all to see," but that flies in the face of the Borrego Water Cabal's modus operendi. Almost as an aside the piece divulges that "the Farm Bureau, based in San Diego, will also be an active participant in guiding GSP development." That by itself will guarantee ample problems and conflicts - but no progress - for the Sun to cover. Should be interesting.
A letter from a reader in Florida recommending use of artificial turf on Borrego's golf courses, "one of the big reasons for a [water] shortage." Whatever you may think of her suggestion, that is not the most interesting part of her short letter. As context she discloses that she "was looking at a home that I wanted to buy in Borrego but once I researched the water storage... of course I changed my mind." Property owners of in Borrego Springs should heed her words. As the groundwater situation continues, worsens, and becomes widely known with no promise of a timely solution, more and more rational individuals will come to the same obvious conclusion with predictable deleterious effect on property values. Meanwhile, the BWD board grudgingly allows that it "may appoint one ratepayer representative" to an Advisory Committee to defend the interests of the vast majority of "stakeholders," i.e. customers of BWD, in negotiations over a groundwater sustainability plan. Unless ratepayers wake-up and speak-up they will find themselves holding the short end of the stick.
The article reports on BWD board meetings on 19 and 27 July. It identifies BWD's new General Manager as Geof Poole but provides no other information about him.
At both meetings there was discussion of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the BWD and the County of San Diego intended to allow the two agencies to serve jointly as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency and create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin. The BWD board is scheduled to consider the MOU for approval at its meeting on Sept. 20 and the County board will do so on Sept. 28.
There was also further discussion of Jim Wilson's request that the BWD assist in managing (and funding) Christmas Circle Park. The article notes that while "funding was a major concern to both BWD and the Park. Since Wilson is exploring other options, BWD's involvement is on hold for now."
United States Geological Survey representatives attended the meeting on the 27th and presented a plan for a "depth dependent water quality study... to enable BWD to estimate when... additional treatment may be required... " to ensure that the water BWD serves meets State and Federal water quality standards.
The August 11, 2016 issue of the Borrego Sun contained a third press release issued jointly by the Executive Director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce Linda Haddock, and Geof Poole, the General manager of the Borrego Water District but also bears the logo of the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC). It spins a saccharine little tale about a family (think "The Waltons") who came to a "stagnant" Borrego Springs in 1992 because of "their love of farming," but most importantly, the Borrego Valley's "most precious resource - water" which, not insignificantly, was free for the pumping. But never mind.
Once established, they seem to have quickly become Borrego's "little [economic] engine that could." Among other things, family members apparently patronize every business in town on a near daily basis; almost single-highhandedly support the labor market, and contribute to worthy local organizations of every sort. Heartwarming, isn't it?
Unfortunately it's also a fulsome crock of amateurish propaganda the sole purpose of which is to convince the vast majority of community members that their little town wouldn't - couldn't - exist without the handful of farmers in the valley who pump 70 - 80 per cent of the groundwater each year and turn it into cash. The truth, of course, is that the town won't and can't exist much longer unless these self-styled noble sons-of-the-earth are banished forthwith.
Since it appears to have been placed under BWC's auspices the ad lends credence to the charge that the shadowy BWC is nothing more than an out-of-control pumper's lobby that should be dissolved immediately and replaced by an honest broker reflecting the proportional interests involved and subject to adult supervision.
The article reports on a Neighborhood Reinvestment grant for removal of vegetation and irrigation around buildings at Christmas Circle to prevent "standing and irrigational (sic) water" from damaging them that fortuitously "produced a happy side result" of reduced water use. It argues that, while irrigation is a major cost "in maintaining the park," it is far from "the biggest problem," and labels suggestions from "anonymous bloggers" that it is "the culprit in the matter" as false. But that does not explain why for years Jim Wilson, President of the Christmas Circle Park board, has time and again come to the BWD board, hat in hand, seeking reduced water rates (prohibited by the State constitution) or to have BWD assume direct responsibility for the park because of financial exigency.
Despite the byline, this piece was written by Director Lyle Brecht. It purports to explain the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and its implications for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin (BVGB) and BWD ratepayers. The title of the article is ironic and the pleas for community participation contained in the article itself insincere. If Brecht and other members of the BWD board really believed such engagement is essential to a successful GSP they would not have excluded 95% of the population from full, robust, and vigorous representation on the BWC for the past three years. His appeal for community support at the eleventh hour is, to be kind, disingenuous and motivated solely by the need to satisfy the State's requirement for community participation in developing a GSP. It touts the advantages of a "local solution" as the least expensive and most desirable alternative for complying with the SGMA dismisses the other possibilities, a state takeover or adjudication of the basin, as "top-down and regulatory" or too expensive and ineffective respectively. Brecht has been riding this hobby horse for a long time, but never offers any evidence to prop-up his spurious claims. In fact, no one knows exactly how a state takeover would work, not even the State, and SGMA itself changes the rules for adjudication in such a way as to make his objections to it moot.
"A condensation of an article by Lyle Brecht" consisting of 21 questions about the overdraft and SGMA and Brecht's answers. Most of the questions are ones that anyone who has been in Borrego for more than six months and paying attention should already be able to answer. Brecht's answers to a few, however, demand comment:
Michael Sadler's article, surprisingly, contains a passing fair explanation of why groundwater levels may seem to be rising. Pumpers have reported that water levels are recovering at some of their well sites once the well is shut-down and no longer pumping but, as Sadler clearly explains, that does not mean that the water table is rising and cannot be used as evidence that it is.
Sadler's seeming triumph over opacity notwithstanding, however, the second paragraph of the article contains a couple of egregious errors. He states that the 2,035 acre feet per year of water the BWC boasts of saving "is eight times the amount naturally recharged into the upper aquifer (500 acre-feet per year) from... all sources." There are two problems with that claim: First, the actual annual average recharge is 5,700 a/f per year, not 500, so the savings claimed, even if verifiable, is only about one-third of the amount recharged not eight times that amount as Sadler breathlessly declares; second, eight times 500 does not approximate "just over 2,000." It yields just over 4,000. Quite a difference.
This is the second in what now appears to be a series of ads sponsored by the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Borrego Water District but also bearing the logo of the Borrego Water Coalition. It reports that the Borrego Water Coalition "has been meeting monthly for over three years working on recommendations for a water sustainability policy for the Valley." At the same time it claims that "[i]ndividual Coalition members have been actively pursuing water saving measures on their own." It goes on to tout Rams Hill's efforts which, "with the help, at the urging, and under the direction of the Borrego Water District" resulted in saving 391 mil. gallons of water per year. A remarkable achievement if, indeed, it is all true.
At their 9 June workshop the BWD board held a final public hearing on proposed changes to water and sewer rates to cover increasing operating costs and essential capital improvements. The board approved the proposal to increase water rates 5% a year for the next five years, yielding a total increase of nearly 28% over the period, and increase sewer rates "gradually" during the same period.
At its 22 June regular meeting the board heard a proposal from Jim Wilson, President of the Christmas Circle Community Park board, urging BWD to assist the Park in dealing with a 40% reduction in funding and discussed an ongoing negotiation with Bill Wright about the possible extension of a sewer line to serve a new library to also serve an undeveloped Wright property on Country Club Rd. and who would pay for it. Lyle Brecht introduced 13 agenda items related to implementation of the State Groundwater Maintenance Act and proposed engaging consultants to assist with several aspects of an implementation plan.
Lyle Brecht made a presentation to the 7 July Sponsor Group meeting updating the Group on development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. He reported that BWD and the County are "working toward creating a Memorandum of Understanding to address any overlap" between the two Groundwater Sustainability Agencies for the Borrego Basin (BWD and the County) that will be responsible for developing the GSP and asked for the Group's approval of a Request for Proposals to be issued by the county for a consultant to write the GSP.
This appears to be an ad but is not identified as such and there is no mention of who paid for it. It purports to be a recitation of water savings of 2,035 acre feet per year claimed by members of the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC). It bears all of the hallmarks of pumper propaganda and is likely no more than a thinly disguised attempt by pumpers to lay the groundwork for a claim that, in the final reckoning, pumpers should receive credit in the form of a larger allocation of the aquifer's sustainable yield because of their putative highly successful conservation efforts. Such a claim, however, ignores completely the inconvenient fact that pumpers alone are responsible for the overdraft of Borrego's sole-source aquifer and now critical water problem and raises, but leaves unanswered, a number of important questions such as:
Despite their protestations, it is clear that the BWC remains what it has always been: a secret cabal run by and for pumpers. This self-serving ad is only further evidence of that.
See also: Part 2 and Part 3 of what became a series of ads.
This editorial calls for accelerated implementation of sustainable groundwater management practices in California. Overuse of groundwater has surged in California during the prolonged drought and action is needed now on groundwater protection, but a bill to limit new well construction was pulled from consideration in the State Senate because of opposition from agricultural interests and local government agencies. Senate Bill 1317 would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and required cities and counties to create a process for issuing drilling permits and to prove that new wells would not cause an "undesirable result" such as lowering groundwater levels. California is the last state in the West to regulate groundwater and sustainable groundwater management is proceeding at a snail's pace. Damage to California's aquifers from overuse has already occurred and could become irremediable before the State's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 takes full effect in 25 years. Since the craven BWD board will take action only under cover of state law the withdrawal of SB 1317 is especially bad news for the Borrego basin. (For the full-text).
The title of the article pretty much sums up everything significant that happened at BWD board meetings on 17 and 25 May. Following recent changes in state law granting local agencies more autonomy in how (if?) they conserve water, BWD directors predictably rescinded an ordinance passed only a couple of months ago under pressure from the state limiting landscape irrigation to two days per week for district ratepayers. Once the cloak of the state mandate was removed and the board had to take responsibility for restricting water use, the board's resolve shriveled like a salted snail. The BWD General Manager "emphasized, however, that residents are still encouraged to conserve water." But it is already abundantly clear that voluntary water conservation in Borrego is a failure.
The article describes an Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association after school program for elementary school students to teach them about the Borrego Valley aquifer, the water cycle, and the overdraft in terms they can understand. While doubtless a worthwhile program in it's own right, with respect to solving Borrego Springs' water problem it is unfortunately too little too late.
A letter to the editor from a new property owner in Borrego Springs suggesting "[w]e all need to look at the bigger picture related to the [Borrego] water shortage" and also "what we eat and how it effects our water use," e.g. raising livestock for food. Her suggestions, however well-intentioned, will do nothing to alleviate Borrego's immediate water problem but will obscure the urgency of dealing with what is a quintessentially solvable local problem by placing it in such a broad, abstract, and remote context. In effect there is no "bigger picture related to the [Borrego] water shortage." For Borrego the water shortage is the only picture and should remain so until solved.
Jeannie Beck warns that California's Sustainable Ground Water Act of 2014 (SGMA) requires that the true cost of overdrafting aquifers in the State at last be recognized and paid. In Borrego Springs municipal ratepayers will be the first to pay when proposed new water rates are implemented, but agriculture and golf will also have to pay - eventually. All users will have to share the 5,700 acre feet per year of the average annual recharge to the aquifer and no one will be allowed to use more than their agreed upon share of that amount of water. She calls on residents of the valley to help eliminate the overdraft by "paying attention and speaking out. when and if special interests try to claim more than their fair share." She points out that while upzoning or increasing the allowed residential density "is probably not supportable under SGMA," in effect since 1 January 2015, San Diego County has still not changed its permitting of new wells and is considering upzoning properties to add another 500 lots within the BWD service area even though there will not be enough water under the SGMA limits to supply the lots if built out. Finally, Beck urges Borregans to participate in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process that will begin in the fall and seeks to motivate them to do so by suggesting that "[t]he overdraft has real costs that affect us," the only thing that will always cause local denizens to bestir themselves.
Tom Weber was an able, perspicacious, but underappreciated General Manager of the Borrego Water District from 1998 - 2003.
A report on the BWD 19 April board meeting which drew a "larger than usual attendance" of seventeen people. The attendees offered comments on proposed revisions to the District's recently adopted orinance limiting landscape watering as required by the Governor's drought mitigation executive order. "In response... the board proposed modifications to the ordinance to make it more applicable to Borrego Springs," i.e. they significantly relaxed the requirements.
Director Brecht expressed frustration over the county's contention that the SGMA does no apply to Rudyville) because BWD and the County have not yet formed a Groundwater Sustainability Agency and negotiations to form one have "bogged down" and asserted that BWD could not serve the development under any circumstances.
The board also discussed a new capital improvement plan to fund "critical repairs "totaling around $600,000 and a new water storage facility made necessary by "the near certainity that water quality... will eventually decline."
Another well-written article by Jeannie Beck calling attention to the serious nature of Borrego's overdrafted aquifer and the dire need to address it forthwith. It points out that the quality of water from the aquifer is likely to deterioate "to the point that advanced treatment is required... even for use on lanscapes and for agriculture," and that such deterioration can happen "relatively rapidly." States that the Dept. of Water Resources documented the overdraft but "did nothing about it," and the County's land use policies have resulted in the overdraft more than doubling since 1982, despite BWD's expenditure of over three million dollars to prove that the overdraft exists and establish that: "The water in the basin is all we've got."
Beck notes that, although a "solid solution to the overdraft" - adjudication - has always been available, BWD claimed to lack the funds and certainly lacked tht leadership and community support to initiate the legal process. Now the State Groundwater Management Act of 2014 requires that the basin be brought to a sustainable state by 2040. Beck wisely calls for "Borregans to work together to solve their overdraft problem" and encourage the County and BWD to achieve sustainability "long before the state deadline" to avoid the inevitable negative economic consequences of "water quality uncertainity due to a declining supply."
This opinion piece by Bill Berkley is essentially an apology for Rams Hill Golf Course that purports to furnish "specifics on what Rams Hill has done or will do to save water and increase the aquifer recharge." Berkley claims that Rams Hill has saved more than 390 mil. gallons (approximately 1,200 acre feet) of "potable water" by a combination of purchasing and fallowing farm land, using non-potable water for irrigation and a combination of landscaping changes, a "state-of-the-art irrigation system," recharge basins, capturing storm runoff, building water-efficient new houses, etc. But, in light of the State mandate to bring total withdrawals from the basin down to 5,700 acre feet per year, the question is: will Rams Hill be able to survive on its proportionate share of the 1,140 acre feet per year likely to be allocated for use by all golf courses in the valley even in the unlikely event that all of Berkley's claims and projections are true and accurate? The answer is: probably not.
Reports on four responses from residents of Borrego Springs to a question about household water conservation strategies that elicited the usual laundry list of common-sense measures all of which are commendable and necessary, but, even if universally adopted, no where near sufficient to make so much as a dent in Borrego's critical water problem.
A podcast of an interview by Miriam Raftery with Richard Walker, a resident of Borrego Springs who has long been active in the effort to save the Borrego Valley aquifer and supports adjudication to have the courts resolve Borrego's vanishing water supply. The interview originally aired on the East County Magazine Radio Show (Scroll down until you get to the interview.)on KNSJ radio in February 2016.
Among other things Walker points out that Borrego Springs' sole-source aquifer could dry out within 30 years. But while residents served by the community's water district have been required to conserve, agribusinesses and golf resorts that together account for 90 per cent of water pumped from the aquifer are not required to cut back because they rely on private wells.
This article by Jeannie Beck is an argument for approving a bond issue to ensure that BWD is able to continue supplying high-quality water to the community. It asserts that while BWD's wells in the southern part of the valley continue to "provide the best quality water currently available from the basin," portions of the aquifer in the northern (agricultural) areas of the valley may already have nitrate levels that exceed drinking water standards and farmers there have have had to install reverse osmosis filtration systems to provide safe drinking water. Warns that"[d]eclining water quality is often an early casualty from overdraft" resulting in much more expensive water for domestic use because of the cost of treating it to remove contaminants. Explains that BWD has initiated the 218 process to substantially increase water rates in anticipation of significantly increased costs for delivering drinkable water to ratepayers.
The article begins: "The water crisis in Borrego Springs is as simple to understand as it will be difficult to solve. The elephant in the room is farming. Citrus and palm ranches in northern Borrego Springs are sucking huge amounts of water from the underground lake beneath their land - far more than the state is likely to allow in the future."
It could have ended there as well but goes on to provide a decent summary of the groundwater situation in the Borrego Basin. By way of context it points out that "the city of Poway, home to nearly 50,000 people and hundreds of businesses, distributes a bit more than 4 billion gallons of water to its users annually. Borrego pumps 50 percent more water than that, even though its population is minute in comparison." The huge disparity is attributeable to farms which use 70% of all the water pumped from the basin.
Not suprisingly, then, Jim Seley (Seley Ranch) who was interviewed for the article, said the overdrafting has slowed as farmers and others have put conservation techniques into practice and, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to support them, he's not convinced the overdraft figures are accurate and believes that hydrology "is still an art and not a science yet." He is whistling past the graveyard.
The State Groundwater Management Act unequivocally requires farmers in the valley to reduce their water use by 70 percent by 2040. But Seley believes that figure could go up or down once a groundwater management plan is in place. He expects some farm owners will tire of the fight and give up, and anticipates a 20 percent reduction in farming in five years and maybe another 20 percent in 10 years, but that is not nearly enough to save the aquifer from irreparable harm.
(For the full text of this article click here. It was also published in the Los Angeles Times on May 5, 2016 with the title "Borrego Springs water crisis begins and end with farming.")
An account of the April 7, 2016 meeting of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group that attracted an overflow crowd of about 163 people on a weekday afternoon. All of those present by a show of hands opposed the Borrego Country Club Estates (Rudyville) project for a host of sound reasons. Any one of the objections raised would have been sufficient to scuttle the project but for the influence of the project's sponsors with a majority of San Diego County Supervisors. Politics as usual.
A public announcement of Jerry Rolwing's retirement as General Manager of the Borrego Water District. Rolwing has been with the District since 1998, starting as an engineer and appointed General Manager in 2011 after the previous feckless General Manager with the collusion of a monumentally incompetent and irresponsible Board left the District broke and broken. Rowing has always been a calm, quiet, and competent voice of reason at the Water District and ably managed its rehabilitation. The community owes him far more than most residents probably realize.
Explains that proposed BWD rate changes to be implemented over the next five years are required to pay for deferred capital projects necessary to preserve water quality 60 per cent of which are "connected to the overdraft and will become more expensive the longer they are deferred."
A letter to the editor from Ray Shindler of Borrego Springs arguing that, despite pumper resistance, the community must come together and demand that BWD take whatever actions are necessary to reduce demand on the aquifer to a sustainable level as soon as possible and much sooner than 2040, the date they are required to do so by the State Groundwater Management Act.
A letter to the editor from Sam Webb of Borrego Springs requesting Borrego's County Supervisor Bill Horn's (Bulldozer Bill) cooperation and assistance in converting the Rudyville project site into a San Diego County Conservation Area to protect the "ancient old growth Ocotillo forest... one of the largest and densest within the Anza-Borrego Desert" that now covers the site.
A brief and puzzling letter to the editor from Michael Sadler that attempts to explain his article about the BWD Town Hall Meeting in the previous issue. Must be inside baseball.
More arguments against Rudyville and suggestions on how to defeat the project from David Garmon, President, Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy . Full-text available by permission of the author.
A report on the BWD Town Hall Meeting on 30 March by Michael Sadler. Notes that a monitoring well built in 2004 at Henderson Canyon and Borrego Springs Roads has shown a steady decline in water level for "eleven years straight" and dropped 26 feet over that period. Gives credit to the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC) whose members "have been able to work out problems together" and offer solutions but offers no clue as to exactly what problems the alleged solutions address or how they do so. He does cite examples of reductions in water use the largest of which was a 20 per cent drop in domestic use achieved by BWD which was responsible for only 10 percent of overall use to begin with. It is hard to see how BWC was responsible for that.
Sadler tries to explain BWD's proposed new tiered-rate structure that is intended to further reduce domestic water use but, as he describes it, the effect would be just the opposite: the second tier rate is lower than the base rate. That can't be correct, of course, but Sadler is apparently oblivious to that fundamental fact. For a more understandable and accurate explanation see Jeannie Beck's article on the proposed rate increases immediately below.
An article by Jeannie Beck explaining that BWD is proposing another "five-year plan to increase water and sewer rates to fund deferred capital projects... to avoid a catastrophic system failure and public health disaster" and cope with water quality issues caused by continuing overdraft of the aquifer and anticipated changes in State potable water standards. It explains the rate increases and includes what appear to be correct figures for the new tiered rate structure with Tier 2 rate higher than Tier 1 as opposed to Sadler's figures that were wrong both absolutely and relatively.
Expresses concern that BWD is stealing Ocotillo Wells' supply of groundwater.
This Op-Ed by Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, is especially relevant to and should be a wake-up call for residents of the Borreogo Basin as indicated by the following brief abstract of his considerably longer article.
The California drought is not over. A distinct wet-dry line splits the state into a northern half where water is accumulating, and a southern half that is drying out. The great hope for major replenishment of California's surface and groundwater supplies has thus far delivered only average amounts of rain and snow, primarily to the northern half of the state. Unfortunately, average is no drought-buster and it will take two to three more winters of at least average precipitation to end the current drought. Even that, however, won't make a dent in this little-discussed reality: California suffers from chronic water scarcity.
Drought comes and goes with time and it is precisely the episodic nature of drought that creates a false sense of water security among the general public. In contrast to intermittent drought, the water needs of California's agricultural industry are incessant and outstrip the renewable water supply replenished by annual winter rains. The difference is pumped from limited groundwater supplies that, as a result, have been dwindling for nearly a century.
In 2015, water tables reached record lows and thousands of wells ran dry, finally exposing California's underlying, long-term water scarcity issues. Even when the epic drought ends California will still be losing water because the state simply does not have enough water to do everything. We cannot plan to merely match future water use to a projected annual renewable supply, we have to deal with the overuse that is already occurring. For instance, food production in California may have to move elsewhere or water may have to be imported to agricultural areas as groundwater supplies vanish.
To address these challenges, we must embrace a "one water" paradigm that provides a comprehensive view of our water supply and treats surface and groundwater as a single resource. Managing only surface water while ignoring groundwater is a fool's game, since municipalities and farmers compensate for reduced surface water by pumping unregulated groundwater.
The over-reliance on limited groundwater supplies must end. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act - an important step in the right direction. It calls for regional sustainability plans to be established in five years. However, key details - including whether individual wells will be monitored, and exactly how "sustainability" will be defined - have yet to be tackled.
The current California drought is a preview of a drier future. We must act quickly to pursue the social, financial, technological and governance innovations that chronic water scarcity demands.
Jeannie Beck does a good job of explaining California's Proposition 218 process, also known as the "Right to Vote on Taxes Act," intended to ensure that public utilities charge customers only the amount necesssary to fund specific projects and services after they are approved by voters and that monies collected are used only for the approved purposes and no others. It also explains briefly why the Borrego Water District needs to increase rates. Now the question is: Will any one in Borrego Springs pay attention or will they, as usual, vote exclusively on the basis of actuarial tables and personal financial considerations, as Ms Beck specifically and wisely warns against, and reject any increase out of hand.
On March 9 the San Diego Union Tribune published a piece by Jim Seley, general partner in Seley Ranches, that sought to portray agribusinesses in the Borrego Valley as at the forefront of water conservation efforts. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A detailed response to his letter appears in "Notes from Underground."
A very brief article that promises to explore matters involved in maintaining Christmas Circle and the public's attitude toward them "in future issues." This is not new. It comes up periodically, but never gets resolved. By far the biggest issue is the excessive amount and high cost of water used to maintain the approximately three acres of turf and how to pay for it. There are known solutions, but absolutely no willingness on the part of those who manage the park to accept them or on the part of BWD to enforce them.
Argues that a letter sent to the California Dept. of Water Resources by Jim Seley (Seley Farms) purportedly on behalf of the Agricultural Alliance for Water and Resource Education (AAWARE) conclusively demonstrates that AAWARE is nothing more than a lobby for corporate agriculture in the valley that puts the interests of its members above all else and as such will never be a trustworthy partner in the effort to resolve the overdraft of Borrego's sole-source aquifer.
A well-written article by Jeannie Beck urging support of BWD's proposed rate increases to underwrite costs of approximately $6 mil. for infrastructure improvements necessary to ensure water quality in future. The proposal will soon be submitted to voters as required by California's Proposition 218 process and Beck argues for approval to avoid a situation like that of Flint, MI - the inevitable result continuing to do nothing which, when costs are attached to a solution, is predictably Borregan's option of choice.
At its 16 February meeting the BWD board held a public hearing on the proposed Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin boundary adjustment which received a positive reception. A discussion of two water quality monitoring proposals; one to establish a new water reservoir for mixing high and low quality water and another for a "depth-dependent water quality monitoring project by USGS to forecast potential [water] quality issues in various parts of the basin" and expressed approval for both.
At its 24 February meeting the board approved a new groundwater mitigation policy requiring four water credits for each new development unit to reflect the reality that four times as much water is pumped from the aquifer as is replenished each year.
While the above may be considered "significant" when compared to what has been accomplished to date - essentially nothing - they pale to insignificance when compared to what must still be done to fix Borrego's steadily worsening groundwater problem.
Michael Sadler opens his first paragraph by suggesting that the USGS Report that his series of four articles purports to elucidate "speaks to many factors that Borregans need to be aware of and address. with respect to our groundwater situation." In the second paragraph, consisting of a scant couple of column inches, he provides a succinct summary of the salient factors. He could, to good effect, have stopped there. In fact, he should have published the summary rather than the first article in the series and left it at that. It contains all Borregans need to know, more than most want to know, and far more than all but a very few do know about the groundwater situation - even if they valiantly tried to read and understand all of the articles in this series.
But Sadler can't help himself. He goes on, and on, and on. So the article suffers from the same failings as the first three even though he admits "one can see the overall picture merely by looking carefully at the copious amount of good information contained on the front cover" of the USGS report. Given that, the Borrego Sun could and should have simply reproduced the cover and been done with it.
Michael Sadler begins this article "Brave soul that you are..." and one might think he was about to commend the reader for his/her willingness in to plunge yet again into the murky depths of his usual impenetrable prose. But no; it is just an awkward lead-in to another largely unnecessary and unfathomable disquisition on all things wet.
The only significant part of this article concerns de Anza's efforts and plans to reduce water use on its golf course. According to Sadler, when de Anza began metering water use in May 2014, it was consuming about 1,200 acre feet of water per year. Since then, through a combination of removing thirty acres of turf, reducing irrigation on the remainder, and other measures, water use on the course had been reduced by 36 per cent to 770 acre feet per year by June 2015, with plans to do more in future, e.g. install an entirely new irrigation system that "could amount to as much as another forty per cent" reduction.
If all of this is true, then de Anza will indeed have "demonstrated. its concern for aquifer sustainability." The question remains, however, whether it will be enough to satisfy the requirements of the State Groundwater Sustainability Act when fully implemented. Sadler carefully avoids dealing with that.
Bill Berkley, one of the owners of Rams Hill, claims that before the current owners aquired the property it was responsible for consumption of 1,800 - 2,000 acre feet of water per year. This article by Michael Sadler alleges that this is "nearly one-quarter of the entire municipal supply" but this utterance makes even less sense than most of Sadler's muddled prose. It is impossible to know exactly what it means. Nonetheless, the author assures us that "[b]y 2017... Berkley's goal is 800 acre feet per year (or less)." Berkley hopes to reach that by using native landscaping, aquifer recharge basins that he claims will capture and return to the aquifer 20% of applied irrigation water (not likely), "gee-whiz" technology to manage irrigation, and fallowing citrus trees in the north end of the valley. Sadler then launches into another of his long, overly-detailed, and tedious discussions of the valley's groundwater problem: this time the "topography and geology" of the valley. This one supposedly demonstrates that "Rams Hill appears at least not to be adding to the water quality problem that is developing in other areas of the aquifer," but doesn't. It may suffer slightly less from the serious problems that afflict his earlier attempts, but only very slightly. In any case, it is still a long way from being ready for prime time, and he would be doing a huge community service if he would just stick to writing puff pieces about golf and other matters of no consequence.
The article reiterates that while state-wide Californian's have reduced water use by 26.3% since the Governor's regulation has been in place, Borregoans could only eke out a paltry eleven per cent reduction. It claims that there are extenuating circumstances in Borrego including much more rain in the base year (2013) than in 2015 when the reductions were measured, Borrego has already been reducing water use for nearly a decade, etc. Nonetheless, BWD faces a real possibility of heavy fines for failing to comply with the Govorner's mandated 25% reduction and has received a "Violation Notice" from the State Water Resources Control Board. Still, if Borrego can demonstrate an effective good-faith effort to reduce water use residents may be able to avoid paying substantial fines and penalties - but don't bet the farm on it unless the BWD board finds the courage to sanction individuals who fail to do their part, which they have so far steadfastly refused to do.
A couple of letters opposing the Rudyville project for all the right reasons and a long and data-laden Viewpoint piece which concludes that residential landscaping in Borrego need not be watered more than once a week during December and January.
A summary report on the BWD board meetings on 19 and 27 January. The board discussed BWD's failure to meet reductions in water use by the Governor's exectutive order that could result in fines of $500 per day and received a report from the Citizens ad hoc Committee recommending increased efforts to inform the public of their obligations under the executive order and imposition of fines and fees for excessive water use. The board continued its discussion of the State Groundwater Management Act, noting that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the County's application to form a joint Groundwater Sustainability Agency with BWD for the Borrego Basin. BWD is working with the County to resolve issues of overlapping jurisdiction and adjust the boundaries of the basin.
A short piece that, on the one hand, expresses thanks for all the "gracious, generous and selfless people" in Borrego who volunteer for fundraising and public service projects that would otherwise be left undone. On the other hand, the author, Russell Webb, regrets and obviously resents the majority of locals "with too much time on their hands" who nonetheless display "an overblown sense of entitlement" and turn out only when convenient and if the "amenities and swag are sufficient." Webb describes one manifestation of a much deeper, more serious, and widespread problem that afflicts Borrego Springs: a kind of carpe deum attitude exemplified by the cautionary tale of the ant and the grasshopper. In Borrego there are far too many grasshoppers and far too few ants. If you doubt that, attend or check the minutes of the BWD board meetings to see how many members of the general public are there to participate in solving Borrego's one overwhelming problem: water. Then read Aesop's fable again.
Sadler begins Part III of his continuing series by expressing the hope that it will help readers understand the basics of Borrego's groundwater situation and efforts to rectify it. It doesn't. Like Part I and Part II, it is too long, too dense, too technical, too glib, too opinionated, too discursive, too disorganized, too confusing, and generally too badly written and edited to achieve the author's stated end. None of them contain sufficient easily available, actionable information to justify the considerable effort required to read them. The gratuitous addition of brightly colored but essentially unreadable, indecipherable, and useless graphics does nothing to clarify the regrettable text and serves only to distract and further frustrate the reader.
Worst of all, however, is Sadler's propensity to impugn the value and accuracy of the USGS report on the Borrego Basin and minimize the urgency of groundwater situation. For instance: when he emphasizes that the report lacks cost data for any of the proposed approaches to dealing with the overdraft and suggests "caution about over-reliance on some of the data" in the report, he is enabling those who will profit by maintaining the status quo; when he asserts that "[w]e certainly have time" to solve the valley's critical water problem he is mouthing the phrase that, as much as anything else, is responsible for the complete lack of any meaningful effort to do so over the past forty years.
Curiously, or perhaps not, the piece ends with a recitation of Sadler's bone fides as an environmental reporter including a stint in "the late '70s" with a U.S. government contractor in Washington D.C. "providing government agencies with analysis (sic) of reports similar to the USGS report." Small wonder such contractors are commonly known as "beltway bandits."
In her letter to the editor, Cheryl Criss cites a variety of sound reasons for opposing Rudyville not the least of which is water: too much and too little. She points out that residents of the valley are already "trying to address our dire concerns for the depleted aquifer" while "our community. is tipping towards extinction" and cannot provide water for another 172 homes. On the other hand, she notes that when rain does fall on the valley and its watershed, Tubb Canyon is a flood channel and Rudyville sits smack dab in the middle of its flood plain.
This is the second in a threatened "continuing series" of articles that should never have been written. Like the first, it adds nothing new to information about or the discussion of Borrego's by now well-known water problems, contains nothing but nonsensical blather accompanied by inscrutable graphics which even the author appears not to understand, and only confuses the issues and readers, if any. Unfortunately it appears on page 1 and its effect will be to turn readers off from even trying to understand the groundwater problems in the Borrego Valley and discourage them from participating in finding a solution to them. Anyone who is still interested in learning about and participating in solving them, however, would be well advised to read instead Dick Walker's good letter to the editor on page 6; "Have we no conscience?" and Andre Bojorquez's on page 7 which was written as his senior project at BSHS. Both of them are far better written, more insightful, and more informative than Sadler's piece.
A letter to the editor written by David Garmon, President of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, alerts the community to the resurrection of an ill-conceived projectthat most who knew of it at the time probably thought and certainly hoped had died eight years ago. Formally known as Borrego Country Club Estates but locally as "Rudyville," after one of the developers, Rudy Monica, the project is rife with negative impacts for the community and the valley's fragile environment and, in particular, poses a serious threat to efforts to bring the overdraft of Borrego Valley aquifer under control. Garmon reports that the County of San Diego intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for the revived project to be "paid for with taxpayer money at the behest of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors." The EIR is preliminary to approving a change in zoning for the 171-acre Rudyville site to permit a ten-fold increase in housing density requested by and for the sole benefit of the developers. Significant, but not surprising, in this regard, Garmon points out that Monica's partner in The Project is Chris Brown, a former staff member of San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn who represents Borrego Springs. Just business as usual at the County. MORE
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