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The 1% Solution

There was a large turnout at the BWD meeting on 12 March 2008. Most in attendance came to oppose the BWD Tiered Rate proposal; and did. Despite that there was general agreement that Borrego Springs has a serious groundwater problem that must be fixed. There was also grudging agreement that the cost of fixing it will substantial. But the cost of not fixing it will be unaffordable, because the valley will sooner than later become a dust bowl.

So the question is: How to pay the cost of fixing it? One way to start is by implementing the tiered water rate schedule which will have the advantage of suppressing water use while simultaneously providing a modest revenue stream that can be used to offset the cost of conservation measures such as rebates on water efficient appliances and “water audits” to assist rate payers in reducing water used for landscape irrigation which accounts from approximately 70% of domestic water use. The latter appeared to be the audience’s method of choice.

While many at the meeting were clearly angry at the prospect of tiered water rates, it is a safe bet that most of those who are protesting the conservation rates will be unaffected by them. By design, 50% of rate payers will see no increase in their water bill. In fact, those using fewer than 10 units (7,500 gals.) of water per month will receive a 25% discount on the water use portion of their water bill.

On the upside, the majority of the large audience acknowledged the fact that the over draft is real and the need to do something about it. That is a departure from similar meetings in the past where most of those assembled were in denial; but it is not enough. The district urgently needs to press ahead in whatever ways it can to publicize the severity of the groundwater situation and implement solutions for it, however modest. The proposed tiered rate schedule will do both. Indeed, it has already focused the minds of ratepayers.

There is a strong case to be made for sharing the cost of fixing the overdraft among all users – residential, agriculture, and golf courses – in proportion to their contribution to the problem. That is, however, a complicated undertaking with lots of moving parts. Efforts to conserve water can’t wait. They must begin immediately, if not sooner.

One ad in the Borrego Sun protesting tiered rates as a partial solution concludes “There must be a better way.” Fine; but it is not enough just to say that and no one has come forward with any alternatives that would be as effective.

In 2006, the people of Borrego demonstrated that they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing when they angrily rejected a proposal for a Community Facilities District (CFD) to spread the cost of funding ground water management in the valley over all users. Everyone should hope that by now at least a majority of residents will have come to realize that their penny wise and pound foolish mentality is a recipe for disaster and support tiered rates as a first step in saving the aquifer.

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