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The Precautionary Principle: A Cautionary Tale

Digger - February 14, 2008

The 10 January Borrego Sun editorial rightly calls Borrego's diminishing water supply "the valley's most daunting challenge," and expresses hope that 2008 will bring "change in that arena." Indeed, there is reason to hope:

All of the above are well and good; but inadequate. The water conservation rates, while necessary, will have little significant effect on the overdraft. The proposed investigations, while they will help to define the problem and refine solutions, are long-term projects. In any case, they will never show that overdrafting the aquifer by four or five times the recharge rate is sustainable. None of them will result directly in substantially reduced water use.

Work on the BWD groundwater management plan started 10 years ago. In the intervening decade the BWD board has done little to actually reduce water use - and that only recently. The modest tiered rate proposal has taken four years of wrangling and back-sliding and it is not yet a done deal. Ideas for the two studies were simply handed to the board for ratification.

The BWD board should adopt the "Precautionary Principle" with respect to groundwater management. That principle is an integral part of national policy on the environment and public health in many European countries, incorporated into numerous international treaties, and forms the basis of all environmental policy for the city and county of San Francisco. It holds that when an activity raises a threat of harm to the environment or human well-being, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

It is a simple, practical, common sense approach with a lot of survival value. The BWD board needs to recognize it and take real precautionary measures now if the aquifer is to be saved. That is, after all, what they are paid for.

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