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Through the Looking Glass into "Smiley"s World"

Digger - March 15, 2010
Updated December 4, 2010

Steven Smiley has been carrying water for agri-businesses in the Borrego valley for years. As the manager of Seley Ranch, a citrus farm in the valley, he was essentially a tenant farmer. He has never owned property in the valley and never lived within the Borrego Water District"s service area; so he has never contributed a dime to the District. He does, however, serve on the BWD's Board of Directors even though he now lives in Desert Center, CA, and no longer even works in the valley. Go figure.

In his Viewpoint piece(Borrego Sun 02/18/2010) from "Smiley's World" where inconvenient facts are malleable, Smiley has once again hammered reality until it is grotesquely distorted. He offers the BWD's groundwater mitigation policy, water conservation program, and water credits plan as proof that the District is actively engaged in trying to save the aquifer. Nothing could be farther from the truth and Smiley knows it.

There is no question that BWD has developed a groundwater mitigation policy and a conservation program driven by tiered water rates. Both of these were measures that the Save Our Aquifer Coalition (SOAC), an inclusive public interest association with a diverse membership, fought long and hard to persuade the District to adopt. Ironically, Smiley, as propaganda minister and cheerleader for the Agricultural Alliance for Water Resource Education (AAWARE), an exclusive mutual benefit association for agri-businesses only, fought tooth and nail to defeat them. They now exist because of SOAC's tenacity and in spite of both AAWARE's opposition and BWD"s incompetent dithering.

BWD also now has a durable water credit program, albeit the District did not "develop" it as Smiley falsely claims. They shamelessly appropriated it full-blown from Lane Sharman who created it as a private enterprise (The Borrego Water Exchange), and then forced him out.*

The mere existence of policies and programs such as these, however, does not assure that they will be aggressively prosecuted - and these are not. The mitigation policy will never achieve significant gains without accompanying actions to persuade agri-business to fallow, e.g., a pump tax or extraction fee to force irrigators to pay a commodity price for the groundwater they mine from our aquifer and/or adjudication of the basin to establish water rights and limit pumping, both of which Smiley and AAWARE have adamantly opposed and BWD has, therefore, consistently failed and refused to even consider.

The conservation program, i.e., tiered water rates, was resisted for years by the BWD; and then, with a robust plan finally on the table, undermined by BWD"s new General Manager Rich Williamson who cut a last minute, back-room deal with those opposed to tiered rates that substantially weakened it.

Moreover, the initiatives that Smiley touts in his screed are more than two years old. Not coincidently, Williamson arrived two years ago and since then the District's emphasis and spending have been diverted entirely toward large, expensive, ill-conceived infrastructure projects to import scarce, expensive, and probably nonexistent water.

So when Smiley asks what SOAC has contributed to a solution for the overdraft, he is simply feigning ignorance. The answer is clear - even to him: Exactly those things that he now hypocritically holds up to show what the District has done to save the aquifer and more. Fortunately for the community, at least some progress has been made toward SOAC"s goal of saving our sole-source aquifer in spite of the devious, self-serving efforts of Smiley and his ilk to derail every single effort to do so over the past decade.

*Steven Smiley died on 7 August 2010. At the regular BWD Board meeting on 29 September 2010, General Manager Williamson expressed a desire to mark Director Smiley's passing by formally recognizing his efforts in water issues, particularly the water mitigation and credit policy, and proposed renaming the latter "The Steven Smiley Memorial Water Mitigation and Credit Policy." The BWD board then adopted Resolution 2010-09-02 effecting the name change. By this disingenuous act, Williamson and the board added insult to the injury they had already caused to Lane Sharman and bestowed but a hollow honor on Mr. Smiley.

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