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DAI Spells Disaster

The Desert Area Initiative (DAI) grew out of an idea for a “conservation district” that would provide a way to have Borrego-specific requirements considered by the county when considering permit applications for new developments.  After more than a year of work and several public meetings, a committee of local residents has produced “Recommendations - Section Draft For Review & Comment, Version 3.7 — March 30, 2007” (the document) containing over 100 recommendations dealing with a wide variety of issues that could govern future development in the valley.  A copy of the DAI draft is available online at www.borregospringschamber.com.  Click on News & Events, and then DAI’s Recommendations. 


Through it all, the DAI steering committee managed to almost completely ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  The treatment of water, groundwater, and groundwater management therein is pathetically weak and totally inadequate given the severe threat posed by the Borrego valley’s seriously overdrafted, sole source aquifer.  That threat was underscored most recently by the failure of a BWD Well on Country Club Road “that became inoperable due largely to the dropping water table in the Borrego Valley” (Borrego Sun, 04/19/07, page 8).  The failure to acknowledge and adequately address this threat vitiates the entire DAI.  The Borrego Valley is headed for a train wreck; and the DAI amounts to no more than planting petunias along the track.


In several different sections, the document calls for new Borrego Water District (BWD) committees or task-forces.  The last thing the BWD needs, however, is more of such bodies.  The district is already nearly paralyzed by a surfeit of committees that accomplish nothing except to diffuse responsibility.  Proposing more is the moral equivalent of recommending vodka to an alcoholic.


In other instances, the document calls for solutions that are far too complicated and/or expensive; e.g., limiting total water use permitted for landscape irrigation and an unnecessarily complex, confusing, and redundant tiered water rate schedule.  The BWD has long had a workable tiered rate structure designed by its consulting engineer that would provide a straight forward tiered rate structure and also control water use for irrigation. The problem is that the BWD board lacks the will, integrity, and moral courage to pass and implement it.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel in the DAI document.  Doing so will only give the BWD board yet another excuse to continue dithering.  It would be far better to find ways of stiffening their spines.


The document recommends considering a stand-alone Replenishment District to fund aquifer recharge programs and conjunctive use cooperatively with the BWD. Increasing the number of autonomous bureaucratic nodes, however, will only contribute to the existing inefficiency and gridlock and make comprehensive ground water management in the valley that much more difficult if not impossible.  In the extremely unlikely event that aquifer recharge programs and conjunctive use should be found advisable, they should be accomplished by a single, valley-wide water authority and not set up as yet another separate bureaucratic entity.  One aquifer; one agency should be the guiding principal.


The present Section  4.2, Water Use, should be renamed “Water Supply” and renumbered as Section 1 to reflect its premier importance to the continued existence of the community and the fact that nothing lasting will be achieved unless a sustainable water supply can be assured.  In any way possible, it should be made the most prominent aspect of the document.  At a minimum, a statement such as "Economic activities which depend on groundwater depletion should be aggressively phased out " should come first in the document’s statement of values.



The document suggests that implementation of the BWD’s Groundwater Management Plan be “actively supported.”  This is the single most important thing that can be done to save our aquifer and community.  Anything that detracts or distracts attention from it is counterproductive.  The document would, therefore, be substantially improved if this were the only recommendation regarding groundwater. 


Voluntary approaches to groundwater management in the valley under AB 3030, the statutory basis for the BWD Groundwater Management Plan, have failed miserably.  They have not worked and will not work because they necessarily run counter to powerful special interests; and Borregans, in the main, care nothing for groundwater management unless and until it cramps their life style or impinges on their pocket book.  And then they reflexively oppose it.


The Desert Area Initiative must take a much more aggressive stance regarding groundwater management and conservation than the document does.  Unless the overdraft of our sole-source aquifer can be brought under control very soon, everything else in the document will be akin to re-arranging deck furniture on the Titanic as she closed on the iceberg.  It is simply whistling past the graveyard, and will shortly come to nothing.


What is required is strong leadership and bold action; not just a wish-list couched in vague terms and calculated to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  In short, the DAI needs to get real about water.

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