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An edited version of the essay below appeared as a letter to the editor of the Borrego Sun entitled “Ellis profits at town’s expense; BWD serves the community’s interest,” Borrego Sun, November 2, 2006, page 6. It appears here in its original form by permission of the author.

Water and Borrego Springs


James Wallerstedt

I have been following water issues in Borrego Springs for many years.

First of all, I would like to commend all who have tried to help solve this problem. There are dedicated “activists” and volunteers who’ve contributed. The BWD has also tried. Many have attempted to come up with solutions to bring all the parties together. There are others who are acting purely out of self-centered interests, and fighting dirty to boot.

Let us imagine a Borrego Springs, an hundred or so years ago, without any significant habitation. It would be understood that the population, as it grew, would be sharing a single precious underground water source. Recognizing that water is essential to all life – human, plant and animal, and given freely by Nature - town planners might have designated that all future inhabitants would receive, free, a certain ration of water. Beyond that, the town would sell water within a tiered-rate system, to discourage over-consumption and compensate for use of a shared resource. Beyond another level, consumption of water would be prohibited - perhaps with different structures for residential and agricultural use. Such plans recognize that water is a vital and limited public resource - what political scientists term a “public good.”

Mr. Ellis, the proprietor of Ellis Farms, has lately placed full-page ads in the Sun, accusing the BWD of being power-hungry, of “wanting all the valley’s water,” and running what he calls an “eco-scam.” He says the BWD has been scaring people with fake claims of a dwindling water supply.

The BWD has proven conclusively that the town has a dwindling water supply. Clearly, Mr. Ellis and his “AAWARE” cohorts continue to profit - calling the data into question, while pumping the town’s aquifer dry. As long as the town lets them get away with this behavior, it’s unlikely the water situation is going anywhere besides “worse.” However, it is interesting to note that Reuben has indulged an interesting “Freudian slip,” in using the term “eco-scam” in his personal/AAWARE ads.

The real eco-scam is that businesses like those Mr. Ellis runs can pump the town dry, make a profit while doing so; then turn around and accuse volunteers trying to remedy the problems, on behalf of the public good, of being “eco-scammers.” Cute!

In the days of the Wild West, people could be shot dead, and the Sheriff might or might not care. It seemed we would never exhaust Nature’s bounty; endless open lands, timber, fish stocks, and abundant pure water. The use of those resources had almost no regulation. Those days are now long over. Borrego has a dwindling water supply. For Mr. Ellis and agricultural operators, water - a limited public good - is a product component (as with golf courses). They sell ornamental palms or citrus fruit and make a business of it. Water is essential to their profit stream, yet they pay nothing for it, even as the water is pumped out from under your property and BWD’s community wells.

Now here, friends, is the true “eco-scam.”

If there is no case law precedent for protecting a sole source of public water against predation by business interests, then the laws need to be changed.

Many other places also have serious water problems. Many transnational firms are trying to “privatize” public water supplies, to the detriment of public welfare, motivated by financial interests. Some say that “water wars” may replace “oil wars,” someday. Let’s hope not. Just a suggestion: perhaps Borrego could give a gift to our nation and our larger world, by creating some new precedents along these lines

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