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Borrego Water District Appeases Pumpers at Ratepayer Peril

Digger - February 09, 2015

Ray Shindler argues that Borrego Water District must negotiate an initial share of water allowed under the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) at least equal to its current demand of 1,600 acre feet per year because:

The amount of water that individual farmers receive under the anticipated division of available water when apportioned among all the farms in the valley will not be enough for any of them to continue business as usual. They will either have to compete in the water market with BWD or fallow their land and sell their water. Golf courses will be similarly affected.

It is unlikely that most farms will be able to pay the high price that water will command once SGMA is implemented and stay in business, so they will probably seek to sell their water, their only liquid asset. That same fact, however, will also incite them to demand outrageous prices for their water or hoard it in hopes that the price will rise over time thereby aggravating the supply/demand problem with predictable effect.

In recognition of this BWD promises "[m]arket rules that ensure moral and fair trades will be established. as part of the [Groundwater Sustainability Plan]" to "prevent current water users from hoarding water or speculators from gouging municipal and recreational users with outrageous prices for water transfers." To date, however, they have presented neither details about how this counter-intuitive gimmick might work nor any evidence that it will. On the other hand, it requires that pumpers act against their own economic interest and some have already expressed a preference for allowing the "invisible hand of the market" unfettered sway.

Rather than rely on the board's facile and tenuous assurances Borregans should heed Ray Shindler's admonition and demand that the BWD negotiate a share that meets the District's current needs and accommodates some future growth. The California Water Code (Section 106) in effect endorses such demand when it declares: "It is the established policy of this State that the use of water for domestic purposes is the highest use of water." However, until and unless ratepayers insist that the BWD board vigorously represent their interest, as they have repeatedly promised but failed to do, the members thereof will continue their ill-conceived peace-at-any-price strategy in negotiations with pumpers to the detriment of the community.

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