Jim Engelke's "No Plant Option" Is a "No Go Option" for Borrego
Jim Engelke’s discursive "Viewpoint" ("Borrego Water District,
Farmers Should Consider No Plant Option," Borrego Sun, 3 November 2005, p. 6)
oversimplifies, distorts, and flat-out misrepresents facts about agriculture and
groundwater in the valley. Its only saving grace is its opacity. Most readers –
even those who follow the groundwater situation closely – will likely give up
when their eyes glaze over after the first couple of paragraphs and not be
- Engelke describes the newly established Groundwater Mitigation Fee of
"something in excess of $4100" (actually $4,168) as applying to a "typical
house on a typical lot" (whatever that means). His description is flippant
and misleading. It implies that if the house or lot is somehow "atypical,"
then the fee may not apply or other variables may come into play; neither of
which is true. Given the confusion already dogging this simple program, the
BWD does not need help to confound the public.
- Engelke refers to the mitigation fee as an "interim fee" and cautions
that "revisions should be expected." "Interim" means "temporary,
provisional, in the meantime." While the program is not chiseled in stone
and the fee may change annually according to an established formula driven
largely by the cost of farm land, there are no expectations that it will be
frequently "revised" in the usual sense of that word. Engelke’s depiction of
it as ephemeral, therefore, only adds to the muddle and generates anxiety.
- Engelke states that "agriculture, golf, and residential development have
collectively used more water than can be replenished by natural means." That
bland understatement plays down the fact that the amount of water pumped
from our sole-source aquifer every year is approximately five times the
annual recharge. It is an obvious and transparent attempt to minimize the
overdraft to make his fanciful and impractical proposal look feasible.
- Engelke characterizes the groundwater mitigation program as "lemons for
houses." This may be just his attempt at humor; but, more likely, it is
another conscious attempt to trivialize the mitigation program in order to
make his own ill-conceived and unfounded proposal look better by comparison.
- Engelke asserts that "the community has options relating to
agriculture." According to him, the BWD can:
- "purchase agricultural lands along with the citrus crop;" i.e. the
current mitigation program, although neither recognizable nor identified
as such in Engelke’s disquisition;
- "purchase the crop from the farmer in exchange for a no-grow easement
on the land." This is badly stated, self-contradictory, and needlessly
bewildering; for if there were a "no-grow easement," then there would be
no crop. What he presumably means is that the BWD would pay a farmer not
to grow a crop at all; i.e. the old Federal Land Bank concept. In this
case, it amounts to purchasing the water rights for agricultural land
while leaving title to the land itself with the seller; a strategy
already being considered by the BWD as Engelke knows;
- "purchase a no-plant option from the farmer. . . the farmer will not
replant a water consumptive plant (citrus) in exchange for money and he
retains the right to plant whatever non-consumptive plant he/she
chooses" – Engelke’s favorite. According to him, the "no-plant program
pays the farmer to establish a sustainable farming economy in the
valley." Quite apart from the fact that this "option" guarantees
full-employment for lawyers and the question of where the enormous
amounts of money required to pay for such a program year after year
would come from, there is one huge, obvious, and fatal flaw in it: It is
impossible to "establish a sustainable farming economy in the valley."
We live in a desert, rely on a sole-source aquifer, and there is not
enough water. It is as simple as that, and Engelke knows or should know
it; so his proposal is either hopelessly naïve and uninformed or
disingenuous or both. Even without agriculture, if nothing else changed,
we would still use 140% of the annual recharge (BWD figures for 1999).
But other things have been and are changing – rapidly –all of them
dramatically increasing demand for water.
Engelke contributes nothing new toward solving of our increasingly serious
groundwater problem; raises a great many questions and answers none; and muddies
waters already turbid enough. And that’s the charitable interpretation of his
As an architect and "environmental planner", Engelke frequently attends both
Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and BWD meetings to represent clients.
In both of these venues he often presents highly imaginative concepts that he
proposes to incorporate into clients projects. All of these, as one might
expect, benefit the client. Most do so at the expense of the community. They are
never well conceived or thought out. They are almost always accompanied by and
rely heavily on concept drawings that appear, as much as anything, intended to
draw attention away from the concepts and to their visual expression; i.e.
attempt to sell the sizzle rather than the steak. Inevitably his presentations
raise far more questions than they answer, and inevitably Engelke attempts to
trivialize or avoid these questions rather than answer them. He is nothing if
not consistent. 12/01/2005