Last updated 2/23/2018 at 10:06am
By Saul L. Miller
For some time, like many Borrego residents, I have been very concerned about the water situation in Borrego and our shrinking aquifer. About 10 years ago, I first heard that annually we were using 3-4 times more water then is being returned to the aquifer. Numerous studies have confirmed this fact, however little has been done to curb the imbalance.Finally, in 2014, the state of California mandated that each region develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan to be in balance (water out = water in) by Jan. 2020.
That means an approximate 70% reduction in water use in the valley.
A Water Advisory Committee was established to develop such a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The state also said that if no suitable plan were in place by 2020, the state would take charge of the situation.
Now here’s what I find remarkable. Everybody knows what the problem is in Borrego, and how to solve it. Nine farm groups are using approximately 70% of the water. They have to cut back drastically in their water use, so do the 6 golf courses who are using approximately 20% of the water. This is our drinking water.
The 3,000 – 5,000 residents use approximately 10% of the water and they are simply not in a position to reduce their use significantly. The farmers would like everyone to reduce their water use by the same proportion. This is nonsense since they are the major source of the problem.
Furthermore, regardless whether the farmers accept this or not, there is a legal precedent to adjust water use disproportionally to address the major abusers and protect the ongoing existence of Borrego’s thousands of residents. The farmers would also like to have until 2040 to comply with the 70% reduction. But no one knows what the impact on water quality would be if they are allowed to continue pumping until then, even with a graduated reduction. There is no reason they can’t be forced to comply sooner and begin a significant reduction in 2020, instead of beginning to reduce their water usage 7 years from now as some suggest.
The farmers fear that the Water Advisory Committee might come up with a plan keeping residential use at around 2000 acre feet per year – 2,461 acre feet was the maximal one year residential use between 2010 and 2014 – while targeting them to reduce their water usage 70+ % and do it before the 2040 deadline. Because of that possibility, the concern is that the Ag group may try to negotiate a deal behind closed doors with the Borrego Water District (who appear to be sympathetic to the farmers) and the County that will go easier on them.
If the residents of Borrego are genuinely interested in the survival and possible moderate growth of the community, I suggest they make themselves aware of the water situation at this critical time and voice their concerns. The next community water meeting is March 5th.
Many years ago Borrego was said to have a virtually unlimited supply of water, and farming flourished. Indeed, farming helped build this community. Clearly times have changed. For some time, due primarily to the farmers over-drafting, the aquifer has been shrinking at a shocking rate. And, as times change, so should water use and farming practices. Some farm groups understanding the inevitable are selling their water rights. Ideally, they would sell their rights to the Water District and at a fair price… and not to those who want to pour more drinking water on more fairways.
The solution is simple. The major pumpers, especially the farmers, have to stop pumping or cut way back. They need to start soon, and do it earlier then 2040. Everyone knows it. It’s the only way to save this community.