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AAWARE Backs Water

Digger - November 5, 2015

In September James Seley (Seley Farms) sent a letter purportly "on behalf of the Agricultural Alliance for Water and Resource Education ("AAWARE")" to the California Department of Water Resources ("Department") protesting the Department's inclusion of the Borrego Basin in a preliminary list of Critically Overdrafted Groundwater Basins in California. The letter demands that the Borrego Basin be removed from the list because "publicly available Basin data does not support" such designation and requests that AAWARE be given "a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on any additional reports and data considered by the Department in advance of designating the Basin as critically overdrafted."

AAWARE is a mutual benefit corporation formed in 2003 by growers in the Borrego Valley for the sole purpose of protecting member's interest in unlimited free groundwater. After a period of relative quiescence during which it sought to portray itself as a cooperative member of the pumper-dominatedThe Borrego Water Coalition (BWC) working to solve the Valley's increasingly serious groundwater problem, it has dropped all pretense of being a responsible corporate citizen and is again prosecuting the obstructive 3-D strategy (Deny, Deceive, and Delay) that marked most of its ignoble history.

The reason for this abrupt retrogression is not far to seek and has nothing to do with inadequate data as Seley's letter claims. It is a disingenuous, ham-handed attempt to escape the requirement of the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) that Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) be established in basins designated by the State as medium or high priority, i.e. critically overdrafted, to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for such basins to bring withdrawals of groundwater into balance with recharge. In the Borrego Basin achieving that goal will require eliminating all agriculture from the Valley. AAWARE, therefore, is once again seeking to defend the interest of its twenty or so members at the expense of all others who depend on the Borrego's sole-source aquifer.

AAWARE's decision to show its true colors just now was likely prompted by the recent passage of groundwater management bills by the California legislature that clarify language in and make procedural adjustments to the SGMA, impose significant new groundwater management responsibilities on local agencies, and provide expansive new authority for the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to exercise jurisdiction over groundwater extractions.

What should - and but for the invertebrate Caspar Milquetoasts on the BWD board would - be of more concern to pumpers in the Valley, however, are bills that streamline groundwater adjudication in California (AB 1390 & SB226). The SGMA explicitly avoided clarifying or defining the rights of pumpers in a groundwater basin, leaving the common law process of basin adjudication as the default mechanism for doing so. AB 1390 expedites adjudications that seek to comprehensively allocate a groundwater basin's safe yield. SB 226 amends the SGMA to avoid conflicts between the individual rights-focused adjudication process and the sustainability-focused SGMA. It also makes clear that the State may intervene in groundwater adjudications to ensure that the interests of the SGMA are given adequate weight, which means that the State will likely be more involved in future adjudications to assure a sustainable outcome.

In light of the above the Borrego Water District board should admit the obvious fact that AAWARE is not an honest partner in the effort to solve the Valley's serious groundwater problem, dissolve the dysfunctional BWC over which AAWARE and other pumpers hold sway, and seize the opportunity afforded by the new legislation to finally end the overdraft of Borrego's sole-source aquifer.

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