Digger - December 31, 2019
Highlights of recent articles about or related to groundwater in the Borrego Valley of California and efforts to manage it - or not.
For previous years click here.
The thirty day public comment period for the Stipulated Judgement/Groundwater Management Plan is over. For the programs and policies set forth therein there are knowns and unknowns. The major known benefits of the Stipulated Judgment/Groundwater Management Plan include:
BWD will not have to begin acquiring water to meet customer demand until 2032 (estimated), but will probably start doing so before then.
The Water Master Board, consisting of five members representing BWD, the community, recreation and golf courses, agriculture, and possibly the County of San Diego and overseen by a Superior Court judge, will set-up and administer the Groundwater Management Plan.
The Stipulated Judgment/Groundwater Management Plan "provides the most comprehensive solution by creating water rights without adversarial adjudication. Arguments about process deficiencies and perceived impacts. can be addressed during further negotiations. after start-up and beyond based on objectively derived information. Its not perfect, but what is?"
There were no Letters to the Editor in this issue.
The 17 December BWD board meeting was largely devoted to water line construction and replacement of hydrants and service lines in the De Anza Country Club area, well replacement, and sewer line improvements.
The proposed Stipulated Judgment will be Borrego's water plan to achieve sustainability by 2040 as required by by state law. It will be managed by a Water Master Board, but disputed matters can be appealed to the court that will oversee and enforce the plan. The board comprises only five people, three of whom come from outside the basin. Two-fifths of its votes are assigned to those who pump the most water now and they represent individuals or corporations whose investors are based elsewhere. Lawyers representing these interests and BWD negotiated the Stipulated Judgment/Groundwater Management Plan, will serve on the Water Master Board, and will have one of five votes that determine how the sub-basin is managed far into the future. Another vote is reserved for the County of San Diego, if they choose to participate. A Community Representative will have the fifth vote on the Water Master Board.
Under the plan farmers will have "a marketable water asset" so they will "have a way to leave [farming] with substantial funds." The Stipulated Judgment "makes permanent the unchangeable right to pump the assigned Basic Pumping Allowances(BPA) to the parties who negotiated it" although this likely will be challenged every five years of the twenty-year reduction period and could be revised. The plan also determines that BPAs are of equal priority, thereby giving up a potential for municipal water rights to be recognized as of higher priority than others.
Whether the plan will be beneficial or detrimental to the community in the long run is unknown. The Adjudicated Judgment requires the Water Master Board to hold a minimum of one public meeting per quarter and "citizens will need to keep an eye on the Water Master Board." The Water Master Board's executive director will track allocations, water use, and trading and issue reports that will be available to the public by request.
All members of the Water Master Board except the Community Representative will have funds provided by those they represent for such things as mediation, legal costs, hiring experts, etc. if needed. The Community Member also will not have her/his own lawyer as other Members of the Water Master Board will, not withstanding the fact that decisions made by the Water Master Board will have the greatest effect on residents of the community.
Although the community will have one member of the five member Water Master Board representing its interests, many decisions will be out of community members control and it will be "an ongoing challenge" to influence the future of the community with little say in how water in the basin is managed.
Some specific points that require attention:
Two letters. None about water.
At a community meeting on December 3, BWD General Manager Geoff Poole presented an overview of the proposed "Stipulated Judgement" for the Borrego Sub-basin. All pumpers in the sub-basin producing more than two acre feet of water per year (non-diminimus pumpers) are eligible to participate in the Judgment. Each participating pumper has or will receive a Basic Pumping Allowance (BPA) that will serve as a starting point on which mandatory annual reductions will be based. According to Poole, this "rampdown" or reduction in water use is "the most significant component of the Judgment." The rampdown "calls for a five percent reduction per year until 2025, and approximately fifty percent of the BPA by the end of 2030." Governance under the Judgment will be by five member Water Master board including one community representative to be selected by the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee representatives for BWD ratepayers, the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, the State Park, Stewardship Council, and the Borrego School District.
BWD and County Supervisor Jim Desmond's Revitalization Subcommittee on Environment are compiling a list of abandoned wells in the Valley the exact number and location of which is currently unknown but, unless properly sealed, can pose a life/safety hazard and threaten Basin water quality.
Announces the 20 November release of the draft Stipulated Agreement among major pumpers in the Borrego Sub-Basin for public review. Provides an overview of the draft "Stipulated Judgement" (heretofore referred to as a "Stipulated Agreement") with an attached Groundwater Management Plan (GMP) that replaces the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The combined Stipulated Judgement and Groundwater Management Plan are allowed under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act as an alternative to a GSP and provide community and court oversight of basin groundwater management.
"Another agreement for everyone to digest on the water issue front. It never seems to stop, first it was the GSP, now it's the GMP, what will it be next? Let's hope everything is soon agreed and our water problems will be solved once and for all."
BWD became involved in air quality monitoring because of anticipated air quality issues associated with farmland fallowing required under the GSP/GMP. The original three-year funding was provided by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund and expires at year's end. The BVEF will provide $22,500 to cover next year's expenses and BWD has agreed to match that amount, probably from ad valorem taxes, to cover direct costs of an Air Quality Monitoring System.
Touts the virtues of the GSP/GMP. Nothing new here.
The author, Rebecca Falk, is Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and represented the Group on the GSP Advisory Committee. In this piece she describes herself as "disheartened that the public process for discussing and shaping a water plan for Borrego in compliance with state law was abandoned in disdain of the kind of public participation" with which it began. According to Falk, it devolved into "private negotiations" with representatives of agriculture and golf courses about the latter's 'water rights' which quickly expanded to include "all potentially controversial parts of a groundwater management plan." Falk concludes with a warning against surrendering the power to determine the future of Borrego Springs "to a handful of people or corporations who have been overpumping our water" even though, by Falk's telling, that ship has already sailed. (Ms. Falk declined an invitation to have the full text of her "Viewpoint" posted on this website, but it is worth reading if you can find it.)
A summary of the draft "Stipulated Judgement" (heretofore referred to as a "Stipulated Agreement") with an attached Groundwater Management Plan (GMP) that replaces the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) scheduled to be released for a 30 day public review and comment period on 20 November. The combined Stipulated Judgement and Groundwater Management Plan are allowed under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act as an alternative to a GSP and provide community and court oversight of basin groundwater management.
One letter. One about water.
Firehouse Mulligan, p. 6
Rams Hill is asking that its forty year old Specific Plan be updated and extended for another thirty years "including reaffirmation of the plan for a second golf course." But this letter points out that one of the required "extraordinary benefits" the resort offers to secure the update and extension was also offered 40 years ago, but never delivered.
A tongue-in-cheek article "for the little folks at Borrego Elementary because they are the ones who will see the results" of a pipeline that is part of a Regional Conveyance System that may materialize "decades from now." It would extend from the Colorado River to San Marcos, cost $10 billion, and may be routed through Borrego Springs. The route will be chosen in 2035. The water will cost about $2,000 per acre foot. A $4 million phase 1 feasibility study is scheduled to be completed by June 2020. "The pipeline just might be a reality, someday."
BWD is exploring a new funding source, from a combination of funds from Propositions 1 and 68 that might fund land or water acquisition. Pending grants include one for upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and another for replacement of two water storage tanks and a tank pump motor. The 2009 Integrated Water Regional Management Plan may be updated to make BWD eligible for grants that require an IWRMP. Much of the information needed for the update is now available from the Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
Two letters. None about water.
The San Diego County Board voted to withdraw from the Borrego Springs Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency and transfer a $500,000 State grant for environmental impact review and assessment to BWD. The withdrawal will be effective on the day the Stipulated Agreement is filed with the court or 31 December 2019, which ever is first. The level of future County involvement will be determined once the Stipulated Agreement is further defined by the court.
The GSP Advisory Committee met 18 times over the past two and one-half years to discuss details of the GSP and on October 4 met for the last time to express their individual opinions on whether or not to adopt and implement it. The vote was "purely advisory." The result was 6-2 in favor of adoption. Four members of the Committee rated the plan "Acceptable," two indicated they "could live with it,"and two said that "it needed more work" citing "the impending public release of a 'Stipulated Agreement' among major valley pumpers." The GSP eschewed specific wording on individual programs and actions items to avoid litigation.
"It seems incredible that with all the talk of water conservation and the GMP that the so-called small herb farm seems to multiply in size every time you drive past. We are trying to stop agriculture to preserve water and this is going on. Why is it allowed?"
One letter. None about water.
At the final meeting of the GSP Advisory Committee Suzanne Lawrence, representing the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council, reported on the BVSC's activities including a workshop "focusing on integrated land use and water management planning." A grant application is pending to support the creation and function of the Anza-Borrego Desert Watershed Alliance that would replace the BVSC.
An AmeriCorps participant is working as a BWD Intern "to connect community organizations and management of natural resources in Borrego Springs... [by] reconnecting water and land use issues."
A hearing on 14 January 2020 on whether to approve the final GSP for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin - Borrego Springs Subbasin.
The Stipulated Agreement among approximately twenty major pumpers in the Borrego Valley is expected to be released at a BWD public meeting on October 22. All of the GSP projects and programs will be subsumed under the Stipulated Agreement and the GSP will be renamed the Groundwater Management Plan. The "timing and extent" of specific programs and projects will come under the aegis of a WaterMaster Board supervised by a judge who will field objections to the WaterMaster Board's majority decisions and make final decisions. There is uncertainty about the County's participation in the make-up of the WaterMaster Board and role in the process under the Stipulated Agreement. A thirty-day comment period on the Stipulated Agreement will begin on October 22, and comments will go to the parties to the Stipulated Agreement who will make any necessary changes.
Rams Hill is asking that its "Specific Plan," approved in 1980 and last amended in 1986, be updated and extended for thirty years "including reaffirmation of the plan for a second golf course." To gain approval of changes to the plan Rams Hill must pledge "extraordinary benefits to the community." The extraordinary benefits according to the Rams Hill CEO are:
The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy recommended rejection of the request and a letter to the Sponsor Group opposed the second golf course. The Chair of the BSCSG commented that total water use for two golf courses at Rams Hill would equal one-third of total projected community water use by 2040. Another Sponsor Group member stated that "the trend lines for the future of golf are not good" and "questioned the urgency of the application ." Joe Tatusko, a resident of Rams Hill and former BWD director, argued that "time is money" and the project would bring money to Borrego Springs. (Editorial Comment: Supporters of Rams Hill have argued for well over 40 years that the development would spur dramatic economic growth in Borrego Springs without proof of concept.)
The BSR Golf course will not open for the 2019-20 season. The closure has already affected operations at the Country Club Estates golf course which purchases water to irrigate the course from BSR. All golf course staff and maintenance personnel were abruptly terminated and the water shut off. BSR's general manager said the reason for the closure was "the financial viability of the golf course operation." The entire resort has not been developed as planned due to 'inherited grading issues despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to rectify the issues. Club Circle East, part of the resort property, executed a nine month contract for delivery of water from the BSR just prior to the closure announcement. BSR assured the Club Circle East manager that the contract would be honored but warned that BSR would provide no maintenance for the delivery system. Shortly thereafter a "water main break" caused the water to Club Circle East to be shut off and "they are about to pack -up the flags on the Club Circle greens." (See also "Chamber Board Meeting" below.)
Three letters. None about water.
A representative of the Borrego Springs Resort assured the Chamber of Commerce board that the golf course closure "will only be for this season."
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee will hold its final meeting on 4 October for a "consensus vote" on the 1,500 page GSP document. The Advisory Committee will use a six point scale ranging from one, an unqulaified "yes," to six, do not agree and want to block the consensus decision, to register its "overall opinion of the GSP". "Unfavorable votes and the reasons for them will be documented and forwarded to BWD and the County.
At the September 24 BWD board meeting BWD's General Manager presented a report on consolidating water quality programs. BWD has increased water sampling over the last year and one-half and plans to move testing in-house rather than continuing to contract it out. BWD is working with consultants to expand the District's monitoring and sampling of groundwater under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation and Monitoring (CSGEM) program. GSP related monitoring and sampling of approximately thirty wells not owned by BWD is expensive but now covered by grant funding that will end in 2020. When grant funding runs out pumpers will be required to pay for monitoring and sampling of their own wells since the data is necessary to calculate their Basic Pumping Allowances.
Voluntary fallowing agricultural land is one of six action items in the GSP. The Borrego Valley Hydrological Model predicts "a net deficit of 72,000 acre feet of groundwater storage during the twenty year GSP implementation phase." To address this deficit will require removing agricultural land from production to reduce pumping. The estimated cost to fallow a single acre of agricultural land apparently range from $1,000 to $50,00, although the article's presentation of the numbers is far from clear. Potential sources of funding for the fallowing program include state grants, [increased?] water rates, parcel taxes, and other mechanisms.
Four years after the USGS published a report on the status of the Borrego Valley aquifer showing that pumping water at historic rates, which removed about 520,000 acre feet of water from Borrego's sole-source aquifer in 70 years, was unsustainable the "Draft Final Groundwater Sustainability Plan for Borrego Springs Groundwater Subbasin" was released on 30 August 2019. The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group approved the GSP, and the GSP Advisory Committee will hold a "consensus vote" on the final draft on 4 October. The GSP will be sent to the California Department of Water Resources just prior to the 21 January deadline for submission. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will probably not take a formal vote on adoption of the GSP because of the pending Stipulated Agreementamong pumpers scheduled for release in the coming weeks. The Stipulated Agreement is "far more detailed than the GSP's general outlines" moves a majority of pumping reductions into the first ten years of the 20 year implementation period, reduces time to sustainability, and intended to avoid litigation over implementation of general concepts in the GSP. Forty-one pumpers in the Valley will be party to the Stipulated Agreement: the Borrego Water District, thirty farms, six golf courses, and four others. Only one of the thirty agricultural pumpers provided valid pumping data on which to base their Basic Pumping Allowances under the GSP. The other 29 will have their BPA's calculated. Over the past 65 years groundwater levels have fallen 126 feet in the northern (agricultural) part of the Basin, about two feet per year, and about 87 feet, about 1.3 feet per year, in the west-central part. In the south-eastern part of the Basin less water has been pumped and water levels have remained stable. Recent pumping in the Southern Management Area has resulted in localized groundwater depression south of the Borrego Sink.Sponsor Group Approves GSP, p. 1
The vote "by a quorum of members" to approve the final draft of a GSP for the Borrego Basin was unanimous. The Sponsor Group also received an update on the stipulated agreement 'designed to avoid protracted and expensive litagation' over water rights and responsibilities.
One letter. None about water.GSP vs. Stipulated Agreement, p. 7
The GSP 'contains enough detail to get started on. a 20 year path towards groundwater sustainability.' There was, however, one major obstacle to successful implementation: the threat of "future litigation over water rights and responsibilities." The Stipulated Agreement "expected to be finalized shortly" is a far more detailed document with two prime objectives:
The GSP. will still serve as the Physical Solution to the overdraft.
The article concludes with a warning that the Stipulated Agreement is still being negotiated and "subject to change following a planned 30- to 60-day public review period."
Rams Hill's managers have requested a "legally binding development agreement" with the County 'to confirm the previously approved agreement.' Rams Hill claims that it is asking for neither an 'increase in density or commercial intensity' nor 'to bypass required environmental and other reviews,' but simply 'some flexibility in the implementation in exchange for providing certain extraordinary benefits,' e.g. a contribution to construction of a new fire station.
One letter. None about water.
The final draft of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan was released in early September and at their last meeting on 4 October the GSP Advisory Committee will take a "consensus vote" on the document that will serve as the official framework for future decisions. A stipulated agreement among Basin pumpers is currently being negotiated and may provide an alternative path to sustainability that will begin pumping reductions as much as two years sooner than would the GSP.Letters
One letter. None about water.
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee will hold its last meeting in September "to discuss the Final Draft of the Plan and hold a consensus discussion of the document." Diane Johnson, the Borrego Springs Stewardship Council's representative on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee must be replaced because she has been appointed to the BWD board. The Council has requested that Suzanne Lawrence be appointed to the Advisory Committee effective immediately.
A representative of Dudek Engineering, Inc., a long-time consultant to BWD and principal consultant on the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan, provided a summary of the comment letters on the draft Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan and offered a "proposed response" to the main categories of concern which are:
(Editorial comment: The proposed responses appear to consist mostly of unresponsive bureaucratic double-speak calculated to deflect rather than answer concerns, e.g. we have done that already, we intend to do that, our decision was based on the best available data, SGMA made us do it, etc.)
"The public comments and responses will be included in the GSP as an appendix, and there will be another public comment opportunity after submission of the GSP later this fall."
At the BWD board's 23 July meeting Diane Johnson, the only applicant for the seat on the BWD board vacated by Harry Jones, was appointed to serve out the remainder of his four year term. Johnson is a retired academic librarian who is active in many local civic organizations.
The San Diego County Water Authority is evaluating three possible pipeline routes to bring water from the Coachella Valley to San Diego, one of which "runs literally through Borrego Springs." If that one were selected it could benefit the community by enabling it to acquire water from the Imperial Irrigation District(?) and SDCWA and also create a revenue source from storing water in the Borrego Valley aquifer and charging a fee for doing so. Anyway, that's the hope (pipedream), but "don't hold your breath, as mere hope is not a viable strategy for actual construction."
One letter. None about water.
At the 23 July board meeting Director Lyle Brecht presented a summary of the estimated 20-year cost to implement three alternative paths to groundwater sustainability. In order from least to most expensive they are:
A final decision on how to proceed is expected in the fall.
Following public comments on the subject at the 25 July BWD board meeting the GSP Advisory Committee consultant gave a presentation on Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem (GDE) sustainability according to which 'severely reduced groundwater levels over the decades has had little if any effect on local vegetation, specifically mesquite trees, because they lost access to shallow groundwater prior to 1985. and the existing community [of mesquite]is[therefore]not sensitive to changes in groundwater levels'
Construction of the new well on Borrego Springs Rd. west of Christmas Circle is "[o]n time and on budget, so far at least."
At a standing-room-only BWD board meeting on 9 July, BWD's attorney "elaborated on the proposed governance system during the... GSP implementation phase." A proposed Stipulated Judgment with pumpers in the Valley will be considered for final adoption in the Fall after an opportunity for public comment. The agreement contemplates governance of the Borrego Springs sub-basin by a five-member Water Master Board comprising representatives of BWD, "the community," the County of San Diego, Agriculture, and Recreation with an independent staff financed by assessments on pumpers dependent on their water use. A single Superior Court judge would appoint and oversee the Water Master Board, settle disputes, and enforce assessments. The case will be filed in the San Diego Superior Court, but may eventually be trasferred to neighboring county "due to conflicts of interest." The Stipulated Agreement will include the GSP as an attachment and it will serve as the "Physical Solution."
At the 9 July BWD board meeting (above)the District's attorney took questions about the Term Sheet for a Stipulated Agreement the "primary advantages" of which are said to be "litigation avoidance and implementation of measures sooner." The board authorized its negotiators to "continue the process during which the public will have the opportunity to provide input." The audience asked a number of questions about the Term Sheet and the attorney and board members attempted to answer them - sort of.
Three letters. One about water.
"Mesquite Transects," p. 7
The draft Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan claims there are no viable Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (GDEs) in the Borrego Basin, but a recent survey of mesquite trees tells an entirely different story and makes clear that there are significant negative impacts of the overdraft on GDEs in the Borrego Basin not addressed by the GSP as currently written.
BWD must fill a vacant seat on the District's board by 24 August. The successful applicant will have to stand for re-election in November 2020.
Club Circle officials are seeking funds to maintain the golf course, greenbelt, and wildlife habitat that surrounds the development and ask that Borregans contribute $95 or $150 to the cause because '[i]t has a greenbelt and an identity which all Borrego residents appreciate'.
A Term Sheet outlining a possible stipulated agreement among all pumpers in the Borrego Springs Sub-basin is under review by the BWD board. Under the agreement the Groundwater Sustainability Agency will be replaced by a Water Master Board comprising representatives from BWD, agriculture, golf courses, and citizen advocacy groups "who will, hopefully, reach majority consensus on policy and action items concerning Borrego's water future." The GSP will serve as a "framework document" for the Water Master Board. If consensus cannot be reached on an issue a judge assigned to oversee the Water Master Board will settle the matter. The agreement is expected to severely curtail litigation costs over the 20-year GSP implementation period and the Term Sheet increases pumping reductions at the front end of GSP implementation.
One letter. None about water.
The third in a promised series of excerpts from comments submitted to San Diego County regarding the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. This one focuses on The Nature Conservancy's argument that pumping restrictions proposed in the GSP are insufficient because they permit groundwater conditions in the critical status Borrego Basin to worsen by 100,000 acre feet during its implementation.
Harry Ehrlich, who has served on the Borrego Water District board for two and one-half years, is stepping down at the end of June. The board will appoint someone to fill the remainder of his four-year term.
The second in a promised series of excerpts from comments submitted to San Diego County regarding the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The Audubon Society's comments address concerns the Society has about the draft regarding: Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, beneficial uses and users of groundwater, and depletion of interconnected surface water systems. The comment letter asks that significant deficiencies in the draft document with respect to these topics be addressed and suggests specific remedies for each.
Two letters. One about water.
Water Ratepayers Representative Report, p. 6
A letter from Gary Haldeman, BWD Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee, outlining the work of the Ratepayer Group over the first five months of the year and asking BWD to make significant changes to the draft GSP before it is approved and adopted. In brief, the Ratepayer Group wants to ensure that BWD:
- receives a minimum and irreducible 1,700 acre feet of water as an initial allocation and sustainability is achieved "immediately";
- initiates an "all-out... fund raising effort to purchase land/water" straightaway;
- guarantees the transparency and openness of the GSP process by including ratepayers in all essential conversations regarding the GSP.
Discusses the complications of selling a 20' x 20' parcel of land containing two abandoned wells to La Casa del Zoro so the resort can build a solar farm.
The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group urges everyone to submit comments on the GSP to the California Department of Water Resources before their comment period closes in July (no specific date provided). The DWR comment period opened just as San Diego County's closed. Go figure.
On 1 July, BWD's water and sewer rates will increase. The water rate will increase 6%, sewer rate by 4%, and the monthly water base rate, a fixed charge, by 5%.
The first in a promised series of excerpts from comments submitted to San Diego County regarding the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. This one is from the comment letter submitted by the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group. Rebecca Falk,, Chair of the Sponsor Group, provided an additional comment to the Borrego Sun:
"Private attorney-led negotiations are now taking place to agree on water rights in Borrego, and elements of water reduction, fallowing, and water trading programs are part of those negotiations. We need 1) transparency to the public; 2) risks and costs to our economically disadvantaged community taken into account; and 3) equity, so that the greatest water over-drafters are responsible for needed water reductions."
Three letters. Three about water.
Two letters question the expansion of an herb farm on Borrego Springs Rd. at a time when everyone is being asked to reduce water consumption. One letter complains about recent increases in BWD's water rates.
At their 28 May board meeting BWD directors received a summary of a study to determine the potential socioeconomic effects of the proposed Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The author of the report concluded that "the only sector that significant reductions could feasibly come from is agriculture," the impacts of reductions in water use could include loss of low-income workers due to decreases in business revenue and the need for agricultural workers, and the subsequent out-migration could result in the loss of schools. On the right side of a ledger, the study determined that tourism has the most potential to provide economic growth for the community.
The "final bid" of $3.8 million for the Borrego Springs Resort didn't meet the seller's reserve price which was not released to the public. The two highest bidders are now able to negotiate with the seller in an attempt to reach a deal.
A letter from 5th District County Supervisor Jim Desmond thanking those who attended the Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee Meeting on 7 May. Among a plethora of other topics of interest, albeit second from last in the rather long list, was "Water Issues."
Two letters, one about water.
"Supervisor Desmond's Message"
A letter from Gary Haldeman, BWD Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee concerning remarks made by District Five San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond when he was in Borrego Springs on 7 May to institute a new County program called Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee.
Work has begun on a well to replace an aging BWD well on DiGiorgio Road. The well is expected to be 1,000 feet deep and reach to bedrock "to help insure a continuous supply of potable water for the Borrego community."
District Five San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond was in Borrego Springs on 7 May to institute a new County program called Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee intended to match County funds and resources with community needs. Desmond made clear at the outset that he and other County staffers present were emphatically not in town to talk about Borrego's water crisis because that fell within the purview of the Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Desmond did, however, make one comment about the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan, i.e. if the pumpers in the Valley cannot reach a negotiated agreement with the Groundwater Sustainability Agency on allocation of the aquifer's safe yield the County would opt out of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process and let the State step in to manage it. Suggestions from the audience for community needs that might be addressed by the Revitalization Committee included:
A letter from the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency commenting on the Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin. Requests changes to the draft GSP including no reductions in water use for the municipal sector, front loading reductions in water use so that more water is saved in the early years of the plan, immediate implementation of mandatory metering for all pumpers, imposition of mandatory water quality monitoring, and others.
Two letters, one about water.
A letter submitted by a Borrego Springs resident to San Diego County as a comment on the draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Basin. It makes a compelling case for giving human consumption and use of water priority over agricultural and recreational uses in the final GSP and against equal proportional reduction by all users in the Basin as called for in the draft GSP.
Following the meeting with District Five Supervisor Desmond (see "Jim Desmond Hits Town" above), County Groundwater Geologist Jim Bennett met with folks especially interested in water issues. Participants expressed concern about across-the-board cuts in water use whereby all sectors (agriculture, golf, and BWD) would have to reduce their use by 70-75%. Bennett said that the so-called "proportional use" reductions were not required by the GSP and BWD General Manager Geoff Poole said more information on the District's options would be presented at a ratepayer meeting on 14 May. With respect to Desmond's comment that the County might "withdraw from the GSA if law suits appear eminent," Bennett said "Desmond might let the State take over management of groundwater in that event. GM Poole revealed that there were ongoing negotiations with pumpers toward a possible stipulated agreement to resolve differences over allocations and reductions. Other concerns expressed at the meeting included: the accuracy of the USGS/Dudek aquifer model, the over-long 20 year period to achieve sustainable water use, fallowing standards, and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems.
A tentative schedule for further discussion of the GSP:
Borrego Springs Resort goes on auction 21 May at a starting price of $1.5 million. The present owners purchased the property in 2016 for $2.95 million. The Borrego Sun requested information from the current owners about the reasons for the sale, but had not received a response by press time.
One letter. None about water.
At the 23 April of the BWD board Director Lyle Brecht expressed several concerns about the Groundwater Sustainability Plan which he said ignores:
Director Dave Duncan said that governance of the plan must be addressed in the GSP and listed several options including:
The public review period for the 800 page Borrego Basin GSP ends on 21 May. While most of the period has already expired, the article suggests that "[t]he potential still exists to influence the final draft of the GSP through this process." Better late than never apparently.
A flawed attempt to explain how reducing demand on the Borrego Valley aquifer will be accomplished. The article alternates between chatty and flippant and overly technical and in the end neither amuses nor informs but frustrates the reader. Worse yet it propounds egregious errors of fact. One significant nugget of information contained in the long article is that only one of approximately 20 agricultural pumpers In the Valley submitted "validated historical [groundwater] production data" to support their claim for an allocation of the aquifer's safe yield. All of the others were estimated. Other than that there is nothing new here and it would be redundant for any one who has been following the development of the GSP and essentially opaque to any one who has not. Although it bears no byline, it has all the earmarks of Michael Sadler's usual obscure and confounding style.
"While residents of Borrego Springs want a sufficient quantity of water to sustain our personal and recreational needs. we also do not want to sacrifice quality over quantity. We want to be able to drink our groundwater and know its safe." In general, groundwater in the Borrego Basin now meets California drinking water standards without treatment, but as the aquifer level drops harmful levels of contaminants may require treatment. Currently only one of four groundwater quality monitoring wells is located in the Northern Management (agricultural) Area of the Basin, but it is several miles south of the farms that use most of the nitrate fertilizer. Even so, nitrate levels are trending upward and may be migrating toward the town's main water supply, so "[m]ore monitoring wells generating much more data are called for" according to John Peterson, former San Diego County hydrogeologist who has studied groundwater in the Borrego Basin for 30 years. The same data could be supplied by "other pumpers," but whether these folks will cooperate in the effort to gather and report it is unknown. Another threat to water quality arises from the fact that arsenic levels exceeding standards for safe drinking water have been detected in the Lower Aquifer in the Southern Management Area.
Borrego Springs Resort will be put up for auction on 21 May with a starting price of $1.5 million.
Two letters. One about water.
Communal Irrigation Systems, p. 7
The third in a series of letters from GSP Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman to the Borrego Sun addressing issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. This one suggest that there are viable and reasonable mechanisms for managing groundwater in the Borrego Valley.
At its 26 March and 9 April meetings the BWD board discussed a proposal to partner with the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council to retain the services of the Local Government Commission to study how the community may develop while reducing groundwater use by 75% as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Projects related to implementation of the GSP are projected to cost $20 million. The rest of the article presents excruciating and bewildering details of the budget.
At a workshop on 8 April representatives of the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council introduced the principles of "integrated master planning" as a means of implementing Borrego's GSP. As usual with dispatches from this group, you are on your own to figure out what that means and how it is supposed to work.
The Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin , an 878 page document that will be a "road map" for navigating Borrego's water future and achieving groundwater sustainability not later than 2040, is finally available for public comment. The Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, comprising the Borrego Water District and San Diego County, will have overall responsibility for its implementation. The District and the County will have overlapping responsibilities for groundwater management while the County will retain authority for land use in the Basin.
This is the first in a planned series of articles about the GSP and focuses on the Plan's Water Trading Program (WTP) that will allow non-de minimus pumpers to exchange water allowances under a strict set of rules. It will affect only those who own wells and pump more than two acre-feet of water per year, i.e. not BWD ratepayers. The WTP may replace the existing Water Credits Program.
Two letters. Two about water.
Correction to Sponsor Group Article
A letter from Rebecca Falk, Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group Chair, pointing out that a previous Borrego Sun article incorrectly stated that the Sponsor Group had "recommended" that certain items be included in the GSP. In fact, no recommendations were made.
One of the questions was: "Is the aquifer half-empty or half-full?"
U. S. Gypsum proposes to pay for restoration of the fallowed Viking Ranch which is owned by BWD to meet environmental mitigation requirements resulting from expansion of its mining operations.
Largely duplicates information contained in the page 1 article above.
In March the Borrego Water District released a nearly 1,000-page draft report outlining how the community must and will reduce its water use by a staggering 74.6 percent between now and 2040. Over the past 65 years, groundwater levels have declined as much as 126 feet (an average of nearly 2 feet per year) in the northern part of the sub-basin, where the community is located. As groundwater levels fall, it becomes more and more expensive to pump and water quality deteriorates. If nothing is done, eventually it will simply cost too much money to pump and filter groundwater.
All of Borrego Springs will need to bite the proverbial bullet, but none more so than farmers. Farming has long been a part of Borrego Springs, but is depleting the aquifer beneath the town. The drastic but long-anticipated cutbacks will effectively end farming in the Borrego Valley. Water-conservation programs will also be required for golf courses, businesses and individual customers of the local water district that pumps the water they use from its wells.
The plan will limit future growth in the community as water restrictions put a damper on new construction. But Geoff Poole, general manager of the Borrego Water District, said that with the release of the plan developers will no longer be in limbo and will be able to figure out whether projects are feasible under the future water cutbacks. Poole said most towns facing mandatory water cutbacks of 74.6 percent would probably just fold up shop, but the plan is a guide that creates a path, however tough and painful, for Borrego Springs to survive. The report lists different methods or "management actions" that will be taken to reduce water demand by reducing the amount of water allocated to all major users. Domestic users won't be affected by the mandatory reductions, but their rates will rise.
Last November Prop. 3, a comprehensive statewide water bond measure, was defeated by voters. The bond would have provided $35 million to address Borrego's dire water situation, with most of the money going to compensate farmers for the loss of their land and businesses. While there remains hope that a future water bond may pass, leaders are pursuing other grants and funding to buy out farmers who know their days are numbered in any case.
For the full text of this article click here.
One letter. One about water.
Water Ratepayers - Less Than a 20-Year GSP Implementation Period, p. 6
The second in a series of letters from GSP Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman to the Borrego Sun addressing issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. This one explains the need to shorten the time to sustainability.
Release of the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan for public review has been delayed until late March/early April. No reason given. Latest projections indicate that a reduction in pumping from the Basin of 76.4% is required to reach sustainability. BWD and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will hold a series of meetings to share information and answer questions about the GSP.
For 70 years "agriculture has been overwhelmingly the major pumper in the basin," uses 70% of the water pumped each year, and "has been the major cause of the aquifer's depletion." Ratepayer use (10% of total) is less by far than that of either golf courses (20% of total) or agriculture. Moreover, ratepayer use is and has for many years been metered and recorded. These data demonstrate that ratepayers have reduced their use since the 1980s. Farmer's, on the other hand, have made little effort to reduce their use and repeatedly challenged and denied scientific evidence that the aquifer is in critical overdraft. Some farms are not metered and some farmers with meters are unwilling to share their meter readings to help manage the overdraft. Ratepayers, who use the least water of the three user groups, have made the most concerted effort to conserve water and paid for studies to determine the state of the aquifer. Farmers have contributed virtually nothing to these substantial costs.
Golf courses are consistent with the recreational character of the town and important to the towns future, but Borrego Springs has six of them. Not all of will survive on reduced water rations and those that do must become far more water-efficient in future.
The Point of View concludes that because farmers have clearly been poor stewards of the aquifer and the major cause of the overdraft they should bear the greatest burden in rectifying it.
The Ratepayer Group lead by Ratepayer Representative to the Advisory Committee for the GSP Gary Haldeman is aligned with the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group in calling for a minimum allocation of 1,700 acre feet of water per year for BWD in the GSP. The draft GSP to be released soon calls for cuts in municipal use over time from the current use of 1,700 acre feet per year. The Ratepayer Group and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group argue that the municipal allocation must not be reduced. They also argue for reduction of the 20 year implementation period for full implementation of the GSP; inclusion of a requirement for maintenance, monitoring, and testing of water quality; and sufficient water set aside to ensure the survival and continued existence of groundwater dependent eco-systems.
There are four "action items" the Sponsor Group wants incorporated into the GSP:
At the BWD Town Hall meeting on 28 February BWD board members "reviewed water related topics," but not the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for which separate meetings will be scheduled. BWD has emerged from a period of "severe financial stress" that began in 2011 and is now in "good financial shape." It can now fund capital improvement projects in coming years while maintaining water rates that compare "very favorably with other communities in San Diego County."
Director Lyle Brecht answered the question "Can or should the District claim pumping allocations with no reductions, without any payment to other pumpers?" with a "no" citing a "moral argument based on equity, fairness, and environmental justice." Ratepayer Representative Gary Haldeman, however, disagrees (see below).
One letter. One about water.
"1,700 Acre Feet af/Yr. For Ratepayers,"
A letter from Gary Haldeman, Ratepayer Representative to the Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee enumerating four issues that, after two months of meetings, BWD ratepayers agree must be addressed by the GSP. They are:
Ratepayers/BWD require a minimum initial allocation of 1,700 acre feet of water per year, the amount currently used, to ensure the survival and modest growth of the community which has already reduced its water use by at least 30% in recent years;
The maximum implementation period for the GSP of 20 years must be substantially reduced;
The GSP must require rigorous water quality testing and assign responsibility for remediation of any threats to water quality as appropriate;
The GSP must safeguard existing natural habitats by setting aside sufficient water to assure their survival and lasting presence.
More letters from Mr. Haldeman about these demands will appear in future issues of the Borrego Sun.
The reimbursement agreement between San Diego County and BWD under a $1 million Proposition 1 grant from the California Dept. of Water Resources was approved at the BWD board's meeting on 26 February. One-half of the grant money is designated for BWD and the District can now begin to recoup money already spent on consultants and other things. One agricultural business has accepted BWD's offer of a free flow meter and Dudek Engineering is making arrangements for its installation.
A draft of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan will be released mid-March for a 60-day public review and comment period. BWD and the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group are planning a series of meetings to inform the public about the GSP and allow them to ask and have answered questions about it.
One letter. None about water.
See next but one entry.
A report on the 31 January meeting of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Advisory Committee at which the fifth and final chapter of the Groundwater Management Plan was reviewed. Chapter 5 outlines implementation of the GSP including cost estimates, schedule, reporting requirements, and "contemplated" funding sources which include "pumping fees, assessment/parcel taxes, and low interest loans." The GSP implementation schedule begins in 2020. The GSP is an "adaptive plan" that will be continuously updated during the 20 year implementation period. The draft will be released on March 15 for a 60 day public review period.
Because BWD and the County plan on a seriess of meetings on the GSP during the 60 day comment period, this meeting will focus on other issues of importance including operations, capital improvements, finances, and rate projections.
After the failure of Prop 3, a couple of proposals are circulating in the community to raise the $35 million needed to purchase and fallow farmland to reduce water use as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. One would have the County and the State contribute funds. Another would have BWD raise the funds by another bond issue to be paid off by ratepayers. In any case, something must be done soon to contain the economic damage that is and will continue to be done to the community if the uncertainty over funding the Groundwater Sustainability Plan is allowed to continue.
Reports on progress implementing BWD's latest Capital Improvement Plan including pipelines and well replacements.
BWD commissioned a report assessing groundwater elevation declines at each of its nine production wells, examine hydrologic conditions at each well site, and gauge the potential impact of overdraft on future water production. The purpose of the project was to learn how closely actual water level measurements match projections generated by the USGS computer model. What seems clear from the article is that declines in water levels across the sample ranged from 20 to 89 feet and at only one of the eight wells was there "a good match" between the projected and actual values. After that the language becomes so confusing as to defy interpretation with any level of confidence. Either four of the wells showed a drop in elevation greater than the projected value while three wells showed a drop in elevation less than the projected value, or vice versa. Moreover, a critical piece of information, i.e. the period over which the changes in elevation occurred, is missing. The article does stress the importance of receiving reliable measured information from agricultural and golf course wells as soon as possible and at regular intervals in future to inform critical decisions that must be made to meet Sustainable Groundwater Management Act deadlines.
The aquifer under BWD monitoring well #1 has dropped 42 feet since 2004 or 3 ft./yr. on average.
The GSP Core Team is completing an internal review of the draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan that will be released for a sixty day public review in February. Comments and questions about the draft from the public are encouraged and there will be public meetings concerning the GSP during the sixty day review period.
In late 2017 BWD and the County applied for a $1 million grant from the California Department of Water Resources to cover costs related to implementing the GSP. The grant was "tentatively approved" in early 2018. "An agreement has been reached on the final language in the grant documents and between the County and DWR so the grant funding process can now continue." BWD has already paid the majority of costs on the expectation that they will be reimbursed by DWR once funds are released.
4 Letters: 1 about water, 1 sort of about water.
Appeasement, the Endowment Effect, and the GSP, p. 7
Recently the Borrego Sun published two letters detailing and justifying changes to the proposed GSP that must be made to protect BWD ratepayers and ensure the longevity of Borrego Springs. Many probably wonder why, at this late date, these conspicuous defects in the GSP have not long since been addressed. This letter to the editor explains why.
The Fate of the Club Circle Golf Course. p.8
A letter from a Club Circle resident to District Five County Supervisor Jim Desmond seeking help in meeting the cost of watering and maintaining the Club Circle Golf Course once BWD discontinues its support of such costs in June 2019.
A report on the BWD board meeting of 8 January at which Kathy Dice was elected President of the board and Dave Duncan Secretary/Treasurer. Lyle Brecht will continue as Vice-President. Dave Duncan will join Ray Delahay on the Operations and Infrastructure standing committee which oversees BWD's maintenance and capital improvement projects.
Four construction projects to replace water pipelines south of Christmas Circle will begin on 25 January.
Linda Haddock resigned as Executive Director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce effective 31 December 2018 to pursue other business opportunities.
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