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Smiley’s Complaint

Steven Smiley is the salaried manager of Seley Ranch, Inc., a 400 acre citrus operation in the northern end of the Borrego valley. He also owns and operates Desert Ag Services, a farm management and consulting firm. He is one of five directors on the board of the Borrego Water District despite the obvious conflict between this position and his own employment and business interests. He owns no property in the valley.

In an op-ed piece in the Borrego Sun on 23 August 2007 he claims a previous Sun article, “Substantially Less Water May Be In Aquifer,” “violates standards of journalistic integrity;” and accuses the Sun of “abrogating its journalistic responsibilities” by sensationalizing findings from BWD Monitoring Well-5 (MW-5).

But the Sun article’s title is a condensation of a passage in the DWR report on MW-5 asserting that “there may be substantially less water in storage in the Borrego Valley aquifer than previously interpreted.” Nonetheless, Smiley’s accusations are apparently based more on the title than the article.

Smiley calls it “disingenuous and misleading” for the Sun to imply that findings from MW-5 have “any direct consequences for water availability.”

The Sun article explains that MW-5 was “especially significant” because it was the first monitoring well “able to produce a core sample from the valley’s little understood groundwater basin and provides an important check on the traditional methods used to interpret specific yield [a measure of how much water can be extracted from a given geologic formation] and other aquifer characteristics…” heretofore. It indicates a specific yield less than ½ previous estimates and represents a downward correction of previous estimates based on new, more accurate technology. By extension, these data call into question previous estimates of specific yield (“water availability”) throughout the basin.

The Sun article also cites a statement in the MW-5 report affirming that “water-level data [from MW-5] will help constrain the groundwater gradient” (a mathematical expression of water’s direction and speed of flow from one part of an aquifer to another) in the basin; so by definition has “direct consequences for water availability” beyond the immediate vicinity of MW-5.

Smiley rails about sins of omission in the Sun article, and complains that it failed to mention that the “objective of MW-5 was… to study subsurface water flow patterns and quantities out of the basin.”

The Sun article specifically addresses this objective when it quotes a statement from the MW-5 report explaining that data from MW-5 will “facilitate calibration of subsurface flow out of the Borrego Valley;” that is, it will enable the study of “subsurface water flow patterns and quantities out of the basin” in the language of Smiley’s complaint.

Finally, the Sun article warns that the MW-5 report calls for additional investigation to corroborate MW-5 results, provides a web address for the full-text of reports on both MW-4 and MW-5, and alerts anyone interested that the report’s author will attend the 26 September BWD board meeting “to discuss monitoring well results.” What could be more fair, balanced, or responsible?

Considering the above, it appears Smiley was simply so incensed that the Sun dared call attention to data in the report that contradict corporate agriculture’s inane “don’t worry, be happy” mantra, that he reacted to the title and didn’t read the article before firing off his pointless diatribe.

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