Digger - 10 January 2020
Rebecca Falk, author of the op-ed "Let's Talk About Water," is Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and represented the Group on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee. The nine member Advisory Committee had four members representing the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC) but only one representative each for BWD ratepayers, the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group, the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and California State Parks.
In the piece Falk, describes herself as "disheartened that the public process for discussing and shaping a water plan for Borrego was abandoned in disdain of the kind of public participation" with which it had begun. But rejection of the public process was not a black swan event. For decades farmers in the Borrego Valley have kept information about their groundwater use secret for fear it would somehow be used against them, and their reticence served them well in frustrating repeated, if halfhearted, efforts to address the overdraft of the Borrego Valley aquifer.
In the fall of 2012 Borrego Water District directors Beth Hart and Lyle Brecht, who were, ironically, elected to the BWD board in 2010 on a promise of transparency, began meeting secretly with a select group heavily weighted in favor of pumpers to divvy up what remained of Borrego's aquifer. Although officially the "Borrego Water Coalition", it is more accurately described as a cabal. Hoi polloi needn't apply.
In March 2013 the existence of the BWC was finally revealed in a Chamber of Commerce press release and, after being outed, the BWC deigned to publish cryptic, superficial summaries of its still clandestine conclaves. Although members of the pumper-dominated BWC originally committed themselves to "establishing a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent planning process for managing the Borrego Valley groundwater basin" they soon realized it was not in their self-interests to allow the public access to their machinations, reneged on their commitment, and opted for a process that was isolated, exclusive, and opaque.
In February 2015, the BWC sought to ensure itself "a seat at the table for the purpose of development, implementation, and governance of the GSP [Groundwater Sustainability Plan]" by then required under California's 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and "to remain directly involved" in the roll-out of the GSP "to insure its compatibility with [BWC's] recommendations and member needs." In the fall of 2015, despite it's biased membership and secretive nature, BWC was invited to "assist" in updating BWD's Groundwater Management Plan.
The BWC recommendations alluded to above memorialize the opposition of the pumper majority on the BWC to timely implementation of an effective GSP and the complimentary reluctance of the minority to oppose pumpers' attempts to slow-walk the process and defang the GSP. Pumpers were emboldened and enabled by the BWD representatives' patent aversion to confrontation and zeal to get along by going along and leveraged it to bypass the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee and enter into private negotiations about "all potentially controversial parts of a groundwater management plan" free from public scrutiny. Meanwhile, pumpers are apparently already acting on privileged information gleaned from negotiations cloaked in secrecy, a kind of insider trading that is illegal in other contexts.
Since 2012, the membership of entities created to devise a solution to Borrego's groundwater problem - up to and including Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee - have been skewed in favor of pumpers. BWD's representatives to the Borrego Water Coalition and its successors sought to forestall conflict with pumpers by ignoring contentious matters to keep them at the negotiating table, project a facade of comity, and avoid law suits which they feared would result if they resisted pumpers' demands. But even that was apparently not enough, and, according to Falk, "farmers decided to no longer cooperate in the public process."
Falk suggests that, If the Stipulated Agreement is signed by all parties and approved by a court, i.e. becomes a Stipulated Judgment, it "decides the rules for water matters and [residents of Borrego Springs] will be left scrambling to deal with its consequences." Although she warns against surrendering Borrego Springs' future of "to a handful of people or corporations who have been overpumping our water," it appears that ship has long-since sailed.
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