Facts about Borrego’s water supply???

A response to Ellis Farms, Inc.’s ads


Ellis Farms, Inc. apparently takes as an operating principal Vladimir Lenin’s dictum that “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”  Their misleading, half page, paid advertisement in the Borrego Sun which ran on 15 June 2006, page 14; 13 page10; and 27 July 2006, page 10; disingenuously purports to present “the facts about Borrego’s water supply.”  In fact, it is a particularly egregious example of a fallacy known to logicians as “special pleading,” wherein significant information is intentionally suppressed or omitted from an argument because it counters the position being promoted.  The picture presented is, therefore, a distorted one.


For the record:


(1)  The United States Geological Survey (USGS) REPORT USGS H82-855 (1982), cited by the Ellis Farms, Inc. ad, was effectively superseded by the Borrego Valley Water Management Plan (1984) which addressed the usable water in the basin (see 2 below). The earlier report did not address, and is therefore not material to, estimates of usable stored water.  Its inclusion in the Ellis Farms, Inc.’s ad is only intended to muddy the water.


(2) Borrego Valley Water Management Plan, California Department of Water Resources, (1984), does estimate 3.4 million acre feet of usable water in the Borrego Valley aquifer (p. 18), as the Ellis Farms, Inc. ad claims; however:






The Ellis Farms, Inc. ad ignores all of these red flags.


Furthermore, the study’s underlying assumptions were wrong:




Consequently, the study’s conclusion that “the usable amount of ground water in storage is large enough to sustain the present [pumping] rate for several hundred years,” (p. 43) is invalid.  The Ellis Farms, Inc.’s ad again purposely ignores all this relevant information in order to prop up its specious, deceptive, and self-serving argument.


(3)  The May 1, 1986, p. 11, Borrego Sun indeed quotes the county groundwater geologist as stating that the valley has “the most groundwater of any place in San Diego County” as the Ellis Farms, Inc. ad claims.  He also said that he had been “studying the water table in the valley for about a 3-year period [during which] the water level has been essentially staying the same.”  However, the period of study (1983-86) occurs near the end of a long period when agricultural water use was at an historic low (see 2 above).  Nonetheless, he cautioned that “the valley must take water conservation into consideration when development is proposed.  There is a finite amount [of water] he said.’”


(4)  Ellis Farms, Inc. cherry-picked a few isolated factoids from two Masters theses (Henderson, T.W., 2001. Hydrogeology and Numerical Modeling of the Borrego Valley Aquifer System, Masters Thesis, San Diego State University, Fall 2001; and  Netto, S.P. (2001). Hydrogeology of Borrego Valley. Unpublished master’s thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.) and cobbled them together in a way that is incomplete, confusing, misleading, and dishonest to arrive at a 641 year aquifer life.  The ad’s writer should be required to show his work.  That number is preposterous.  It does not appear in either of the theses; nor does any data that could reasonably be used to arrive at it.  Moreover, the overall thrust of these two studies clearly gives the lie to Ellis Farms, Inc.’s “conclusions.”


Henderson issues repeated warnings about the long-standing and rapidly accelerating depletion of the aquifer; e.g.:


the long-term imbalance between groundwater recharge and groundwater discharge, coupled with the geometry of the aquifer system is leading to depletion of groundwater in storage at an ever-increasing rate. (Henderson, p. 156)


Some of the negative impacts associated with this overdraft condition are already occurring… Other, potentially more dramatic impacts… may be occurring now, and is (sic) expected to increase in quantity in the future. (Henderson, p. 55)


Overdraft to the aquifer system is expected to exacerbate existing adverse impacts, and lead to new adverse impacts… (Henderson, p. 280)


Netto echoes those warnings and adds his own ominous caveat:


Continued overdraft of the aquifer will inevitably lead to continued decline in groundwater levels…  Mitigation of the overdraft of groundwater in Borrego Valley could be accomplished by reducing groundwater production, so that is balanced by natural groundwater recharge. … Otherwise legal intervention may become unavoidable and could lead to adjudication of water rights within the basin.  (Netto, p. 152)


(5)  Hydrologist Bill Mills’ methodology for arriving at a life span for the aquifer of “between 260 and 375 years,” cited by the Ellis Farms, Inc. ad, is badly flawed.  It amounts to “Garbage In, Garbage Out;” and the results as presented are meaningless.  Moreover, in a presentation to the San Diego County Water Authority on 7 June 2006, regarding a BWD proposal for a conjunctive use project, hydrologist Bill Mills himself stated that the “basin contains 1.5 to 2 million acre feet” of water – far  less than the 3.4 million acre feet of usable water touted by Ellis Farms, Inc..  In a subsequent presentation to the BWD Groundwater Management committee on 21 June 2006, hydrologist Bill Mills reiterated those figures and admitted that “We don’t know how much is usable.” You should also know that hydrologist Bill Mills has for years been a paid consultant to and lobbyist for agribusiness in the valley and knows on which side his bread is buttered.


Contrary to Ellis’ unfounded and irresponsible claim, there is no “Scientific data show[ing] we have plenty of time” to deal with the overdraft. In fact, the most reputable and recent studies show just the opposite.


At the last BWD Townhall meeting in February 2006, the San Diego county hydrogeologist and an engineering geologist from the California Department of Water Resources reported on their independent analyses of data, but identical conclusions, about the rapidly deteriorating state of our aquifer.  Each study concluded that both the overdraft itself and the rate of increase year to year are growing dramatically.  The Ellis Farms, Inc.’s ad ignores these studies completely.


In a presentation to Groundwater Resources Association (GRA) meeting in San Diego, California, September 2006 regarding the state of the Borrego Valley aquifer, Tim Ross PhD, Engineering Geologist, CA Department of Water Resources who has been studying the Borrego Valley aquifer, said the following:


The water table in the Borrego Valley has been declining for about 50 years.  The rate of decline appears to be increasing.  Moyle’s cross-section (Moyle, Jr., W.R., 1982. Water Resources of Borrego Valley and Vicinity, California, Phase 1--Definition of Geologic and Hydrologic Characteristics of Basin. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 82-855, 39 pp.) implies that nearly all of his lower aquifer may be essentially non-productive commercially for water.


Over the past 3 years or so, California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has worked with the Borrego Water District (BWD) and San Diego County to build a network of wells and normalize the method and timing of water level measurements.  Two new monitoring wells were drilled this spring and will be added to the network.  New information obtained drilling these wells may alter our interpretations of basin stratigraphy and geometry.


Geophysical studies by Geovision suggest that the northern part of the basin may have a ridge of high bedrock in the middle.  DWR used well completion reports to estimate the specific yield of the materials to be different in the northern part and southern part of the basin.  It appears that there is more structural complexity than previously appreciated in this basin.  A basement septum may divide the northern part of the basin at depth.  A barrier or other change in transmissivity appears to occur at the center of the basin.




·         Rate of withdrawal is increasing.

·         Groundwater basin is compartmentalized.

·         Storage capacity is likely smaller than thought.

·         Enhanced drilling information is critical.


Last, but by no means least, Ellis Farms, Inc.’s ad refers to the overdraft as “an imaginary crisis.”  But consider the following:


“Critical conditions of overdraft:  A groundwater basin in which continuation of present practices would probably result in significant adverse overdraft-related environmental, social, or economic impacts.” (California’s Groundwater, Bulletin 118 – Update 2003, California Department of Water Resources, p. 215)


Now, you decide if the crisis is imaginary or not and of which information you ought be skeptical.


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