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The Borrego Valley IRWMP v. BWD Ratepayers

Digger - April 19, 2012

The State of California's shambolic, one-size-fits-all Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP) is intended to establish funding areas throughout the state eligible to receive funds from a grant program administered by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to meet long-term water needs and protect water quality and the environment.

The Borrego Valley IRWMP covers the eastern portion of San Diego County from a small portion of the Borrego Valley watershed in southern Riverside County south to the Mexican border. It is a huge, sprawling, diverse, and sparsely populated area created to provide a mechanism for the back country communities to apply for State grants. DWR requires that three public agencies, two with water authority, join together to create an IRWMP. The three disparate agencies cobbled together to create the Borrego Valley IRWMP are: The County of San Diego, the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, and the Borrego Water District.

The Borrego Valley IRWMP submitted an $830,000 IRWMP grant proposal for development of a plan to, among other things, correct the critical overdraft of the Borrego Basin. The proposal contains no mention of BWD ratepayers among the enumerated "Stakeholders" even though, collectively, they have by far the largest "stake" in the process and its outcome. It does, however, include corporate agriculture's single-minded, well-funded mutual benefit corporation, the Agricultural Alliance for Water and Resource Education (AAWARE), that is already lawyered-up for a fight over what remains of Borrego's sole-source aquifer. Since penny-wise and pound-foolish Borregans dissolved the Borrego Springs Community Association eight years ago, however, there is no formal organization to represent the Borrego Springs homeowners/ratepayers at large in this process.

At the 28 March 2012 BWD Town Hall meeting three IRWMP "experts" were asked several questions about the IRWMP process:

If the IRWMP planning grant is awarded:

After a lot of flailing about for an answer to the first question, they opined that ratepayers were on their own to secure a place at the table. As an afterthought they suggested that the BWD board could represent ratepayers. Wrong.

In this context, the BWD board can't provide a vigorous and spirited representation of ratepayer's interests against the predations of corporate agriculture because, paradoxically, it must somehow represent the notorously conflicting interests of all parties within the Borrego Water District in a competition for scarce resources with the 25 or 30 other enumerated IRWMP stakeholder's including AAWARE. It is a nightmarish perversion of the principle that "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

The Borrego Water District is much larger than the BWD's Service Area which, by definition, includes all of BWD's ratepayers who fund 100% of the District's operation. It also includes the farms (AAWARE), golf courses, and other pumpers in the valley who together take 90% of the water from our common aquifer each year and pay absolutely nothing to the District. Their interests are 180-degrees out from those of ratepayers and there is an inherent conflict of interest and an awesome amount of confusion in the notion of a single agent, e.g., the BWD, representing two parties within its jurisdiction that have irreconcilable differences against the competing interests of other stakeholders in the IRWMP while simultaneously representing the interests of one of the intrajurisdictional parties, in this case the BWD ratepayers, against another, i.e., the pumpers in the Borrego Water District. The mind boggles.

So, unless ratepayers get their act together forthwith, to quote Lilly Tomlin: "We are all in this alone." That is the equivalent of going into a hatchet fight without a hatchet.

As for the other two questions - the ones about how long the process would take and what the end product would be - the "experts" never answered them.

A fourth question from the audience at the Town Hall meeting was directed to BWD board members: "What is Plan B in case the District is denied an IRWMP planning grant?" It was greeted by a stunned silence from the board followed by their sheepish acknowledgement that: "There is none." Gives you a lot of faith in the whole rickety, ad hoc, bureaucratic program that is ostensibly Borrego's last, best hope, doesn't it?

Finally, to make matters worse, a 2010 report* "analyzed the effectiveness of integrated regional water management (IRWM) in the San Francisco Bay-Area of California for decreasing fragmentation and increasing collaboration among water management stakeholders." The "water-politics-as-usual model" was compared to the "collaborative model of integrated water management." A survey of stakeholders was used to assess whether participation in an IRWMP achieved the stated goals of collaboration and integration. In a word, it didn't. The results suggest the Bay Area made only incremental progress away from the fragmentation and conflict seen in the past.

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*Mark N. Lubell and Lucas Lippert, Integrated regional water management: Collaboration or water politics as usual? (Berkeley: University of California Water Resources Center, 2010), Permalink: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1d66w63c.
04/19/2012

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