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BWD Board Set to Destroy Its Only Groundwater Management Measure

The minutes of the Borrego Water District (BWD) Groundwater Management Standing Committee for Wednesday, November 8, 2006, the day after three new members were elected to the BWD Board of Directors, report that during a discussion of the BWD Groundwater Preservation Policy 2005-5-1 implementation program, director-elect

“Steve Smiley opposed the 3:1 mitigation policy on the grounds that it tends to drive up the price of farmland, making it unattractive to developers and resulting in likelihood that the farmer will continue to farm. He felt the policy punished developers, who are not responsible for the overdraft. They should be prohibited from making the overdraft worse, but should not be required to restore it.”

Steven Smiley, who manages local citrus farms and is the Chief Financial Officer of AAWARE, a mutual benefit association consisting entirely of agribusinesses in the valley, was one of three new directors elected in November 2007 and has strenuously opposed 3:1 mitigation in both Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group and BWD from the git go. He now belatedly and disingenuously alleges that 3:1 inflates the price of agricultural land as justification for his long held position, the true basis for which has never been made clear; i.e., his position predates the alleged evidence to which he now appeals – a tactic usually known as rationalization.

Kathy King, another newly elected BWD director and local realtor, parrots Smiley’s claim for obvious self-serving reasons. The short term consequence of reducing the mitigation requirement is to benefit the real estate and developer community faced with meeting this requirement. Neither Smiley nor King has proven, tried to prove, or can prove a connection between the policy and changes in the price of farm land, if any.

Smiley further avers that it is unfair to place the cost of fixing the overdraft on new construction and development; but he adamantly refuses to even discuss how it should be paid for. Clearly he and his handlers in the corporate agricultural community do not want agri-businesses in the valley to bear any costs for doing so. His very purpose for being on the board is to protect his masters from incurring any costs for correcting the problem that they created.

The aquifer is in steep decline. The current policy requires new development to help remediate, not just mitigate, the overdraft. The 3:1 requirement was a step towards remediation. It was the first and only effective step of many steps required to fix the problem. It took years to craft. Reversing this step now represents a complete abdication of the district’s responsibility for groundwater management in the valley.

What is needed to correct the ever worsening groundwater situation is intelligence, integrity, and moral courage, but these qualities are in short supply on the BWD board. The effort to emasculate the only significant groundwater management measure ever enacted by the BWD is simply another glaring example of incompetence, cowardice, and conflict of interest that have long plagued the BWD board and now endanger the very existence of our community.

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