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An Open Letter to the Borrego Water District Board of Directors

Re:

Groundwater Mitigation Ratios

Comments regarding Borrego Water District’s Policy on New Developments at the February 2005 Board meeting (Borrego Sun 03/10/05) border on the hysterical. Obviously made by persons who will profit from the status quo, they are neither supported nor borne out by facts, but a transparent attempt to confuse and panic the Board and the public.

Smith Development’s allegation that mitigation at 3:1 is “too draconian” is empty, hyperbolic rhetoric. There is nothing unfair or economically unsupportable about asking developers to share in the cost of preserving the aquifer as Smith alleges. Surely they have an obligation to ensure that the water lasts at least as long as the mortgages on the houses they will build and sell. Mitigation at 3:1 will certainly not “stop residential and commercial development in the valley” as Smith alleged, but will contribute in a “substantive way” to stanching the overdraft caused by agriculture. It will do so, in part, exactly by raising the price of farm land and making it more attractive for farmers to cash out. It should also be of interest to the Board that, according to the office of the San Diego County Clerk/Recorder on 15 March 2005, Smith Development owned no property in San Diego County.

AAWARE alleges that a 3:1 mitigation ratio is “unrealistic and unfair to business and agriculture,” “counterproductive,” and will make “projects economically infeasible,” but provides neither evidence to support these conclusions nor any clue as to the logic used to arrive at them. Furthermore, AAWARE’s claim that mitigation at 1:1 would “slow down the overdraft” is false and misleading. Under the most optimistic assessment it would only slow down the rate of increase in the overdraft; especially given AAWARE’s curious desire to invite all comers to make a plea for waiver of the mitigation fee. With regard to the latter, your draft policy does not preclude – and will certainly not discourage – anyone from making a case for a waiver; it simply does not invite them to do so. The Board may want to consider carefully whether it is ready to deal with the consequences of issuing such an invitation.

Duane Young’s (Cocopah Nurseries) comment that a 3:1 mitigation ratio “would push all the development to where farming is (now)” actually argues in favor of such a ratio rather than against it as he surely intended. Witness the comments of BWD’s consulting engineer, Kim Post: “residential development would be more economically done with development occurring on existing agricultural land, rather than buying other property and fallowing different farmland.” That is, developing existing farm land would make the issue of mitigation fees moot since taking agricultural land out of production would itself more than satisfy the mitigation requirement, as Young himself recently argued before the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group. Taking farm land out of production is precisely the point and the only way to make meaningful progress on reducing the overdraft.

To that end, the community purposely modified the General Plan 2020 to provide a density of one dwelling unit per four acres as opposed to twenty in active agricultural areas specifically to facilitate and expedite the conversion of farm land to residential use. Ironically, the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group also recently voted to endorse extension of the 1:4 density to 800+ acres of long fallowed farm land on which Young proposes to build 186 homes only because he argued convincingly that it would bring infra structure to the southern edge of the active agricultural area and thereby encourage, facilitate, and expedite development of that area. If he now opposes development there, then perhaps the Sponsor Group and the BWD should also reconsider their decisions to support his project.

Mitigation is not, then, “a very complicated issue” as Director Mendenhall apparently finds it to be. It is actually very simple if one attends to the facts and ignores all of the irresponsible, over-heated, self-serving hype spouted by those who oppose it for purely selfish reasons.

In order to make at least some modest progress on actually reducing the overdraft of our precious groundwater, therefore, stick with the 3:1 mitigation ratio of your good draft policy.
16 March 2005

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