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Reveille for Borrego: An Open Letter to BWD Ratepayers

Digger - November 02, 2017

California has no comprehensive, statewide regulatory scheme governing extraction or use of groundwater. State groundwater law consists almost entirely in reported court decisions leaving many aspects unclear and subject to interpretation. That deficiency and a combination of excusable ignorance of hydrology in the early days followed by opt-in ignorance, indifference, and greed has brought the Borrego Valley's sole-source aquifer to the brink of depletion under local control.

In 2012 Borrego Water District directors Beth Hart and Lyle Brecht invited farmers and golf course owners (pumpers) to begin meeting secretly with them to divvy up the dregs of the critically overdrafted Borrego Valley aquifer. The existence of this cabal, the Borrego Water Coalition (BWC), was finally revealed in March 2013, but meetings continued and remained closed to the public.

The BWC was deliberately weighted to overwhelmingly favor special interests intent on monetizing the water of Borrego's sole-source aquifer in a cynical ploy by the conveners to appease those interests, buy their cooperation, and create a facade of wide-spread public participation in crafting a solution to the community's water crisis. BWD ratepayers received short shrift. For their continued participation in this charade, however, the special interest majority of the cabal insisted on a dominant role in the follow-on decision making body for devising and implementing the groundwater management plan for the Basin required by California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).

SGMA requires that demand on the Borrego Valley Aquifer be reduced to the "safe yield" of the Borrego Basin which, according to hydrologists who have studied the Basin, is 5,700 acre feet of water per year. That is a reduction of approximately 70 percent from current annual withdrawals, most of which will necessarily fall on farms and golf courses that have their own mostly unmetered wells and by their own estimates extract ninety per cent of the water each year.

To comply with SGMA the Borrego Water District and the County of San Diego jointly formed a Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). The GSA created a Borrego Basin Plan Core Team (CT) consisting of representatives from the County of San Diego and the Borrego Water District to develop a coordinated Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) that must be in place by 2020 and reduce demand on the aquifer to the safe yield by 2040. Each party to the Core Team appointed an Advisory Committee (AC) to aid in developing and implementing a coordinated GSP. Each member of BWD's AC will purportedly garner opinions from his/her Constituent Group (CG) that will inform the AC's recommendations to the BWD Core Team and theirs to the Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Anyway, that's the plan.

At each level the pernicious disproportionate affect of pumpers will, as it did on the BWC, indefinitely delay difficult time sensitive decisions, ensure that decisions actually made - if any - are overwhelmingly favorable to pumpers at the expense of the general population, and tacitly endorse the depletion of the Borrego Valley aquifer in service to pumper's short-term pursuit of profit.

If, and only if, the community faces that fact and acts accordingly will timely progress necessary to ensure a sustainable water supply for the valley be achieved. The BWD board will not move to correct the situation unless pressure from ratepayers is sufficient to overcome the special status and undue influence granted pumpers. Most in Borrego, however, will continue to sit on their hands, wait for the moguls to come down from the mountain, deliver the tablets, and siphon up what's left of the groundwater.

The following are three elements of a GSP for the Borrego Basin necessary to, in order, ensure the future integrity of the community of Borrego Springs, prevent irreparable damage to the community's sole-source aquifer, and protect Borrego Water District ratepayers from an ongoing, exorbitant, and insufferable financial burden:

All of these conditions are adamantly opposed by powerful moneyed interests that have been exploiting the lack of groundwater regulation in the Borrego Basin for decades and are accustomed to having their way. There is, therefore, little hope that they will be incorporated into the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Basin without a visible, audible, robust, and sustained show of support for them by the local citizenry who should remember: If you're not at the table you're going to be on the table.

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