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The following was published as a Letter to the Editor in the Borrego Sun of April 21, 2016. It appears here by permission of the author.

Groundwater management planning process... What you don't know

Ray Shindler

April 21, 2016

At the recent Water Board annual meeting we found out some interesting facts about the sustainable groundwater management process. The Water Board is now a Sustainable Groundwater Agency. They and the stakeholders in Borrego, (farmers, golf courses, ratepayers,etc.) have to divide up 5,700 acre feet of water....the total amount we will be able to use annually. This is the amount of our recharge, or "safe yield. We currently use about 19,000 acre feet of water annually here in the basin.

They have until 2020 to complete the plan, although they believe it can be done much sooner. The have until 2040 at the outside to get to the sustainable number of 5,700 acre feet of water used for all users in the valley. They can however reach that number anytime before 2040.

The process is much like an adjudication. If a plan can be agreed upon, instead of going to a judge for approval the plan will be taken to the State for approval. Like adjudication the plan will cost around $3 million dollars to complete. The ratepayers will be on the hook for around 30-40 percent of those costs....about the same for the farmers even though they use 70 percent of the water and the ratepayers only 10 percent. I am told this is because if the farmers contest the amount they pay, we would have to pay lawyers to defend the amount and eat into our pocketbooks.

Like adjudication, much of the funds will be eaten up by attorneys. After all, these are complicated water legal issues and written legal documents where water attorneys will need to be involved.

And, like adjudication a third party, the State, must approve any plan. If we cannot reach agreement then the State can step in and impose an agreement. Not something to be feared...after all we have allowed our aquifer to be over drafted for 50 years. If the State comes in we get what we deserve.

The biggest contested issue will be how long before we get to sustainability? If we wait until 2040 will our water quality degrade enough so that we are pumping up arsenic, chromium, nitrates, which we know are down there. It is not if, just when. If we wait too long and we reach that tipping point there is no going back. We absolutely cannot afford to build, maintain, and treat water here in Borrego....this is not an option. So, common sense says we must reach sustainability sometime before 2040.

The Groundwater Sustainability Agency can legally order the necessary reductions anytime after the plan is approved...around 2020 or so. Undoubtably, the farmers and other major users are going to want the timelines to be stretched as far as possible.

This is where we, the ratepayers, come into play. We should demand of the Agency a much faster timeline and reach sustainability as soon as we can. Let's remove this black cloud that is hanging over Borrego and do the right thing.

Ray Shindler
Borrego Springs

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