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Of Poachers and Pumpers

Digger - June 12, 2014

Farmers and golf course owners (pumpers) in the Borrego Valley are no different from poachers in Africa who are rapidly annihilating entire species of animals such as elephants and rhinos only for the value of their tusks and horns. In a like manner, and just as certainly, pumpers are destroying the Borrego Valley aquifer in selfish pursuit of financial gain.

The beleaguered wildlife at least has the advantage of an avatar that evokes empathy and provokes outrage the world over prompting action to stop the wanton slaughter. The Borrego aquifer, on the other hand, has no icon to represent and attract attention to it. It has no directly perceptible presence at all, so, at least in the short run, even the locals who are completely dependant on it for water can easily ignore the worsening groundwater situation and do so unremittingly. The aquifer and the overdraft are out-of-sight and out-of-mind and, in general and for the most part, people in Borrego do their best to keep it that way. (Case in point: Letter to the Borrego Sun of (04.24.2014) from naive newbie Doreen A. Sabia.)

By now, however, it seems reasonably clear that: (a) there will be no effective action to stop the destruction of Borrego's sole-source aquifer without wide-spread and vocal community insistence and support; and (b) there very well may be no way to generate such assertive support in Borrego. Every past effort to do so has been defeated by the unbridled avarice and greed of pumpers aided and abetted by the enduring apathy, inertia, and willful oblivion that afflicts most of the rest of the local population. The latter's reticence amounts to their more or less passive complicity in dewatering the aquifer and eventual devastation of the community.

The English philosopher James Martineau believed that "We are each of us responsible for the evil we might have prevented." Borrego offers a trenchant paradigm for that aphorism, but there still may be time to change the course of events. Doing so, however, will entail an uncharacteristically bold decision and immediate action to place the aquifer at the top of the community's priorities and subsume all else to a single-minded, Herculean effort to bring water use into balance with aquifer recharge. Alas, there is no precedent in Borrego for this kind of concerted effort or anything remotely like it when it comes to dealing with the ever more serious groundwater situation. It therefore seems unlikely that Borregans will pull it off at the eleventh hour notwithstanding the obvious and inevitable calamity that will attend failure.

Unprecedented change is needed. Pumpers threaten the well-being and very existence of the community by campaigns to minimize the seriousness of the overdraft and oppose policies that would effectively curtail water use. Instead they promote strategies that would, theoretically, mitigate the consequences of continued unregulated pumping. To be fair, implementing measures that would actually end the overdraft and begin to restore the aquifer would devalue their enterprises. But if their understandable advocacy of the status quo risks great harm to everyone in the valley, and it does, then in a free society effective advocacy for necessary policy changes is the only recourse. It is inconceivable, however, that such drastic change can be achieved unless extraordinary action replaces the complacency that now cripples the many directly and adversely affected by the actions of a few special interests. To counter this existential threat to the community will require acts big and small, symbolic and concrete by large numbers of people. Tragically, folks in Borrego would rather just smell the flowers - while they last.

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